When most people think about the library, two things come to mind: nerds and homeless people. But here's a little-known fact: In Los Angeles, a library card isn't just a way to borrow musty old books and scratched-up DVDs. It's a magical key that can unlock a ton of free shit without ever leaving your house! All you need is a library card and an online library account with an email, username and password that links to your library card.
With that, here are six amazing things you can get for free on your computer, smartphone or tablet:
6. The New York Times
That's right, online access to the goddamn paper of record — aka, the failing New York Times — can be yours, for free, provided that you obtain a library card and follow the instructions on this page. You can also link your account to the New York Times app. Pretty soon, you too can read all about men who grow patchy beards — for free! No paywall, no “you have one more free article this month,” nothing. No wonder this paper is failing!
5. The Los Angeles Times archives
No similar service exists for the Los Angeles Times, though the L.A. Public Library's website does give you access to valuable Times archives. The first, which you can access here, covers the L.A. Times from 1985 to the present. That'll let you search the Times for something specific. But if you click on this link, then click on the date of the “latest available issue,” you'll be able to read every story from the morning's paper. It doesn't come in a particularly pleasing format, but it's there.
Far more fun is the Los Angeles Times historical archive, which covers 1881 through 1993. That lets you search the archives for anything. This service is not even available on the Times' own website, and most of these are articles you can't find on Google. Best of all, these articles come in downloadable PDF form, which includes not only photos and drawings but that old-timey newspaper formatting.
The other day, for example, I searched for Harrison Gray Otis, the former owner of the paper, and I came upon a poem by his wife, Mrs. Harrison Gray Otis, entitled “Snatches of Song: Yosemite,” which the Times published on May 6, 1882. Not only could I read the poem, which wasn't very good, if I'm being honest, I could see the page it initially ran on, which, yes, was the front page. Another headline: “Our Navy — It Cost $73,000,000 — It Is Rotten.”
Access to the Times is through Pro Quest, which offers access to a number of other newspapers and magazines, including recent years of the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post. All free with your library card.
4. Most magazines
Maybe you'd rather sit on your couch on a lazy Sunday afternoon flipping through the glossy pages of US Weekly. Well, the L.A. Public Library has that covered, too, through an incredible service called Zinio, which you can get to by clicking here. Zinio has nearly every magazine I could think of — The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Bloomberg Businessweek, GQ, Rolling Stone, Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Wired, The Economist, Newsweek, Los Angeles Magazine, O: The Oprah Magazine, Brides — even Playboy! It doesn't seem to have New York Magazine, not sure what that's all about.
You can browse full-color, high-resolution online versions of these magazines on your computer, smartphone or tablet. The latter two will require you to download the Zinio for Libraries app and log in.
3. A ton of really good movies
Don't care much for word reading? Not to worry — the library has two services to watch movies with. The better one is Kanopy, which unfortunately, there's no app for, so you'll have to watch on your computer. But the selection is unbelievable, at least if you like foreign, classic and artsy films. Kanopy has 419 titles from the much-ballyhooed Criterion Collection, including many of the great works of Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, Federico Fellini, Jean Renoir, Ingmar Bergman, Akira Kurosawa, John Cassavetes and Charlie Chaplin. Kanopy also has a great selection of documentaries, including Grey Gardens, Salesman, Gimme Shelter, Burden of Dreams, Hearts and Minds, Night and Fog, the Weather Underground and many of the films by Ken Burns. It even has the Les Blank short Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe! There are also some excellent 1980s and '90s independent films, including Paris,Texas, Stranger Than Paradise, My Dinner With Andre and, of course, Scanners.
If you're looking for something a little less highbrow, the library also offers access to Hoopla, which is sort of like the poor man's Netflix. There is an app for Hoopla, so you can watch movies on your smartphone or tablet. The selection is not amazing but does include a random smattering of decent movies, including A Fish Called Wanda, Thelma and Louise, The Imitation Game, The Silence of the Lambs and Disney's The Sword and the Stone.
2. Nearly every audio book
This might be the best one of all. All you have to do is download an app called OverDrive, log in with your library card, and you'll be able to listen to nearly every audiobook there is on this planet — for free — on your phone. The only catch is that the system allows you to virtually “borrow” audio books from the library, which means there are virtual “copies” that can only be loaned out a certain number of times. So the one you want may be checked out (as many best-sellers are) – you'll have to place a hold on it, and you can only check out the audiobooks for a set number of days. That said, the selection is incredibly comprehensive, and the app is very well designed.
1. Online courses
Well, we saved the boring one for last. Or did we? The L.A. Public Library allows its members access to Lynda.com, an online learning platform that offers video tutorials on a wide range of topics, such as writing HTML and C++ code, or starting a small business, or writing a résumé. The library also gives access to Mango Languages, an online interactive language-learning platform, which offers courses in 72 languages including Spanish, French, Korean, Italian, Mandarin and, ahem, Pirate: