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So much is free at your New Jersey library


At least two area libraries (Fanwood and Springfield) host Scrabble groups, which are among the free clubs, programs and activites that offer fun, learning and self-development opportunities to local residents. Book lending is, of course, an awesome and valuable library service, but if you think of the library as only a place to borrow books that you have to remember to get back on time, it’s time to take a good look at your local library’s website.

Libraries in New Jersey and elsewhere continue to evolve to serve modern users in numerous other ways. Increasingly, libraries have become places that encourage lifelong learning -- and fun -- for adults as well as children.

In addition to the books and other printed materials, area libraries benefit from partnerships that facilitate transmission of digital information and entertainment beyond their walls and doors. And if you are a computer novice, your library likely has a program to help expand your skills along with public computers that will allow you practice them.

Free movies and more

A library’s home page or resource page often links to sites where your library card gets you free access to video that includes thousands of contemporary and classic movies, documentaries, concert videos, television shows and short films. You can get foreign language instruction or courses to improve job readiness and work skills. Test prep features can help with the ACT and SAT (Fanwood library) or all levels of driving tests, including commercial (Summit library). Library cards and renewable passes for library patrons can offer access to electronic and audio books, and digital issues of current magazines and comic books.

Scotch Plains cardholders have home access through their library’s website to the Star-Ledger’s full-color daily digital pages and archives back to 1989. Fanwood Memorial Library cardholders can get free online access to the New York Times, both at the library and at home. The renewable passes are available in 72-hour increments. Because libraries are funded by local property taxes, some of their programs are only available to local residents. However, if you see a program, event or online app at another library, it’s a good idea to check in with your own to see if it can be made available.

Additionally, those who lead library programs and workshops are often enthusiastic volunteers or business people who share their expertise hoping to generate new business. If you’re interested in what they do, ask the person if he or she would be willing to propose a similar event for your library.

Real-world connections

Library programs also can encourage social interaction. Meet new people and compare techniques while working on your own projects in a craft group. The Knitting Club meets Mondays and Thursdays at Garwood Public Library, for example. Patches and Stitches, a quilting group, is scheduled to meet at noon every Tuesday in January at Clark Public Library.

If you’re a competitive word nerd, the Scrabble Club convenes at noon on Wednesdays at Fanwood Memorial Library. For evenings, mix the tiles at Springfield Free Public Library most Mondays at 7 p.m. Want to get out to see a movie without buying a ticket? Many area libraries run them. “Monday at the Movies” at Summit Free Public Library has both day and evening showings. “Totally New Tuesdays”brings evening movies to Clark's library.

Those who love the books that are at the root of every library can enjoy intellectual stimulation by joining book discussions. Several area libraries have discussion groups, but for those adult readers who must gather after work, the Berkeley Heights, Cranford, Mountainside and Springfield libraries are among those hosting evening book discussion groups.

Another library perk is the Museum Pass, which can be borrowed to gain free or discounted admission to a number of New Jersey and New York museums and gardens. Passes are typically available for a limited number of days on a first-come, first-served basis. Check for your library’s policy.

As for live entertainment, Westfield Memorial Library often has weekend music and more. (There’s a magic show Feb. 23.)

If you happen to have life stories to write, libraries also can help with that. Memoir writing groups meet regularly on selected Thursday mornings at Plainfield and Springfield public libraries. Springfield library also has a creative writing club that meets at 3 p.m. most Thursdays.  

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