Updated 11:10 a.m.
Your library card can do a lot more than just check out books.
It can open the doors to speak new languages, learn computer programs, even research your genealogy on Ancestry.com — all for free.
“Books are the library’s brand. When you say ‘library,’ that’s what people think, so we definitely want to deliver on that, but we also go beyond that,” said LeeAnn Anna, Carnegie Library Services Manager for Public and Reader Service. “It’s more than just books. It’s really all kinds of learning opportunities.”
With its vast resources, Anna sees the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh as being “a window to the world.”
“We want to provide this access because we want everyone, no matter where they’re coming from in their background, to have the same opportunities for learning,” she said.
First of all, if you don’t have a library card, it’s easy to get one.
Visit any Carnegie Library location — there are 19 branches everywhere from Downtown to Homewood to South Side — and stop by the front desk. Show your photo identification to the library staff and voila — your library card awaits. (If you don’t have a photo ID, be sure to talk with a librarian, Anna said.)
Once upon a time, only Allegheny County residents could be CLP card holders, but that’s recently changed. Carnegie Library cards are free to Pennsylvania residents and can be used at all public libraries in Allegheny County.
In honor of Library Lovers Month (yup, it’s a real thing), here’s how to make the most of your Carnegie Library card.
1. Check out magazines, e-books, and electronic audiobooks.
You probably already know you can check out books, but you can also check out magazines, e-books and electronic audiobooks. (Here are Pittsburgh’s most popular titles from 2017, by the way.)
Using the OverDrive app or website, log in with your library card number and search Allegheny County or Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh to find a list of available titles. The app works well with Kindle and Apple e-reader devices.
“The library has been concentrating a lot of our funding in that area because we found that people are really into e-books,” Anna said.
Sometimes people are shy about proclaiming their love for e-readers, she said, but it’s not a dirty secret.
“I’m first to tell them I love my Kindle,” Anna said. “You can read anywhere, and you can take as many books as you want.”
Plus, she added, there are no overdue fees on e-books and e-audiobooks.
2. Research your family history on Ancestry.com.
If you’re working on genealogical research, Ancestry.com’s subscription fee might be a roadblock. But with a library card, it’s free to access the database.
“There’s a subscription fee, but the library and your tax dollars at work pick up that cost for you,” Anna said.
You’ll need to visit a library in-person and enter your library card number on a computer there to check it out. (For the majority of the other perks listed here, though, you can access the websites from anywhere.) Also, if you visit the main branch in Oakland, you can chat with the Western Pennsylvania Genealogical Society, which is based there, for some extra tips.
“We have experts here that can kind of be your ancestry sherpa,” Anna said.
3. Learn a new language.
The library partners with a subscription service called Mango to provide free access to 70 language courses, everything from Arabic to Vietnamese. The program offers step-by-step language instruction, accessible anywhere — sign up online at any time.
4. Get some new skills.
The subscription-based Lynda.com offers more than 6,000 courses in business, technology and creative skills — all available for free with a library card.
With tutorials on everything from graphic design to programming languages to photography, it’s a great resource to learn new skills, Anna said, adding that she used the website to take a class on how to give and receive feedback. The website offers lectures from experts, along with assignments to practice what you’ve learned.
“I have had patrons come into the library specifically to get access to Lynda.com,” she said.
5. Rent a movie.
If you’re feeling nostalgic for the days of wandering the aisles of your local Blockbuster, the library has you covered with 28,680 DVDs and Blu-rays. You can stop by your local branch to meander rows of movies and rent them for free — a lot cheaper than Amazon Video.
6. Peruse Consumer Reports.
With free access to Consumer Reports, Anna said, “You can make the right decisions as a consumer — figure out the right mobile phone, dishwasher, TV.”
7. Hunt for a job.
Schedule resume help and pick up some interview tips with an expert at the library.
“Helping people succeed in their professional life,” is key to the library’s work, Anna said.
8. Get a free tutor.
Helpful for parents who might be struggling to do math equations the way students are being taught these days, families can use Tutor.com with their library card to connect one-on-one with a tutor.
The website also offers supplementary learning materials and tip sheets.