By Susan Trumpbour

In today’s fast-paced and expensive world, finding ways to save money has become an essential part of our lives. Yet many people remain unaware of the abundant free resources and services offered by their local library and town.

From educational programs and entertainment options to borrowing musical instruments, your local library is a treasure trove of opportunities. Ann Cloonan, director at the Bedford Free Library, emphasizes that libraries have embraced innovation, establishing themselves as a multi-resource center that fosters community connections. Additionally, we can’t let our local towns go unnoticed. They play a pivotal role in extending community offerings. When you combine the two, you might be pleasantly surprised by the FREE resources and services available in your area.

 So, get ready to discover the complimentary benefits your community has waiting for you, which can total a yearly savings of around $2,500.

More than just books

Gone are the days when local libraries were simply a quiet space for book lovers, filled only with a vast collection of literature. Today, most local libraries offer many services to help residents save money. They’ve transformed into a vibrant hub of knowledge, innovation and community engagement for those in the know.

According to our local librarians, cardholders are often surprised by the number of digital resources available. For example, by downloading the Libby app, you can access a library of audiobooks, eBooks and magazines. Approximate cost savings: Audible: $14.95/month ($179.40 annually); Apple News+: $12.99/month ($155.88 annually).

Jennifer Coulter, director of Pound Ridge Library, says you can also watch thousands of movies and TV channels for free via their streaming services. Hoopla, Kanopy and IndieFlix offer a wide variety of films, TV shows, documentaries, classics, indie and foreign films. Approximate cost savings: Hula: $7.99/month ($79.99 annually); AMC+: $8.99/month ($107.88 annually).

In addition to these digital resources, local libraries offer various educational connections. Does your child need a tutor, but you can’t find the time to squeeze it into their schedule or pay the high price? Coulter says the library has access to Tutor.com, an online tutoring company where you can receive on-demand and scheduled homework help, take SAT or ACT practice tests and improve your college application essay, resume or cover letter. This service is available for students from fourth grade through college. Approximate cost savings: $100/week ($400/month).

Older adults have access to LinkedIn Learning, which offers interactive lessons, like how to use different types of software. It covers everything from using a search engine to building a website. Approximate cost savings: $24.99/month ($299.88/annually).

Kelly Crummy, the children’s librarian at the Bedford Free Library, says there are also interactive offerings available for toddlers. She cites TumbleBooks and Wonderbooks as two animated collections that are great travel companions or reading buddies. Also, Crummy says reading hour is now more adventurous with a “fun backpack program” she’s created that includes books, games and puzzles for children to check out for three weeks. (No more purchasing these items and watching your child toss them to the side after just one week.) There are currently two themes available: pirates and dinosaurs. Katonah Village Library has a similar program called Play and Learn kits, which are equipped with a book, music and a craft. Approximate cost savings: $25 per kit.

Wired, connected and wallet-wise

Are you aware that many libraries also offer free Wi-Fi access? Plus, they often provide access to computers with internet connectivity. Plus the Bedford Free Library provides free tech support every Thursday, the Mount Kisco Library every Monday, and Bedford Hills every Tuesday. Approximate cost savings: Hotspot, $10/month ($120/annually); I.T. support, $50 to $100 per hour.

Your local library may also offer free meeting spaces and study rooms, ideal for students or community groups who are organizing group meetings, study sessions or small workshops. Mary Kane, from the Katonah Village Library, says their library features a soundproof pod perfect for teens to study, try out instruments (more on that later) or for patrons to take a quick Zoom call. The Pound Ridge Library features a renovated lower level, the Schaffner Community Room, which is available for meetings by local community groups and non-profit organizations as well as for art exhibitions for a minimal cost or donation. Approximate cost savings (based on WeWork): from $50 to $150/day, depending on room size.

Some libraries also offer free or a minimal charge for printing and copying services, saving you the cost of buying your printer and ink or going to a copy shop. Kane adds that the Katonah Village Library offers three 3D printers that patrons can use after taking a lesson. Approximate cost savings vary between $3–$1,000.

Unexpected perks

One exciting movement that all libraries share is the elimination of fines. You no longer need to worry about an overdue charge.

Most libraries also have a Museum Pass Program that provides free or discounted admission passes to several local and New York City museums and gardens, like Storm King. And Katonah Village Library and Bedford Hills Library offer cardholders of Katonah, Bedford Village and Bedford Hills free access to the Empire Pass (a whopping $65 annually), which provides unlimited day-use vehicle entry to most facilities operated by New York State Parks and the State Department of Environmental Conservation.

And don’t forget the free courses. Highlights include weekly meditation and yoga classes by master teachers, knitting and crocheting classes, creative writing courses by reputable instructors or authors – all for F-R-E-E.

Perks by town

Some libraries offer unique programs that typically cost money or enable you to experience a unique adventure. This list also highlights noteworthy benefits and unanticipated things to borrow.

Bedford Free Library

  • Tales on the Trails: The library and BRLA (Bedford Riding Lanes Association) partner to bring you a short kid-friendly trail hike + story time in the woods. Approximate cost savings: $25/family per hike.
  • Professional Mommy and Me classes: Bedford Babies is an eight-week free program for new parents and their babies. Weekly Musical Mother Goose and Baby Bounce & Rhyme Music Classes. Approximate cost savings: $300/program.

Katonah Village Library

  • A collection of instruments (including ukuleles, guitars and mandolins) that can be checked out like a book and taken home. Approximate cost savings: String instruments, $188/month.
  • The Charlie Cart program:  A mobile kitchen on wheels, which has allowed the library to teach basic cooking skills to the community. Approximate cost savings: Sur La Table group cooking class, $89/class.
  • A seed library: Community members “check out” seeds to borrow. At the end of the growing season, they take seeds from their new plants and “return” a portion of them to the library.

Bedford Hills Library

  • A native garden installation that supports the local ecosystem, including vital pollinators such as birds and butterflies.

Mount Kisco Public Library

  • Mobile printing service: For a minimal cost, you can print documents, photos and more from your own computer or mobile device, inside or outside the library. Approximate cost savings (based on Staples): $0.13/page in black & white; color prints start at $0.50.
  • Free writing workshops.
  • Online legal forms to avoid lawyer fees for simple things, like power of attorney and rental agreements.

Pound Ridge Library

  • On-site notary during library hours.
  • Recycle household batteries for free.
  • A café with free coffee, a variety of teas and hot chocolate all day long. Approximate cost savings: Cup of tea or coffee per cup, $3.15.
  • Nintendo Switch consoles and games to borrow (PR cardholders only). Approximate cost savings: new console, $325; new game, $59.99.
  • Tech to borrow: DVD players and Blue Yeti USB microphone. Approximate cost savings: DVD player, $40; new microphone, $79.99.
  • A seed library.
  • Halloween costumes to borrow. Approximate cost savings: $36-$100.
  • Passport services (by appointment) are available for anyone, including residents outside of Pound Ridge.

Save money and stay local

Beyond the library lies our town, a hub of community resources that can also help you save money. The more well-known services include the endless hiking trails, parks, ice skating when weather permits, free use of tennis courts at the town parks and free events.

But towns frequently host workshops, provide accessible transportation for senior citizens to shop or go to a doctor’s visit, offer item swapping, provide electronic waste recycling and much more. Plus, our towns offer a few hidden gems as well.

Bedford

(includes the hamlets of Bedford, Bedford Hills, Bedford Village and Katonah)

  • Free mulch and compost are available at the Beaver Dam facility (115 Beaver Dam Rd., Katonah).
  • Monthly mobile shredder events at the town recycling center.
  • Drug Abuse Prevention Program: Students can enroll in free DAPC presentations & a DARE 10-12-week program with the Bedford police department.
  • Free notary public services at the town clerk’s office.
  • Water Department inspections of a resident’s water meter for possible leaks.
  • Recreation department’s Meals-on-Wheels for homebound residents (free, but some people donate what they can afford).
  • Free parking in the commuter lot for residents after 5:00 p.m. with a town-issued special parking permit.
  • Free parking in commuter lots after 5:00 p.m. Friday until 6:00 a.m. Monday.
  • Free disposal of electronic and computer equipment (excluding TVs with tubes) at the recycling center.
  • Take It or Leave It Shed at Bedford Hills train station parking lot: A sustainability swap program in partnership with Bedford 2030.

Lewisboro

(includes the hamlets of Cross River, Goldens Bridge, Lewisboro, South Salem, Waccabuc and Vista)

  • Food scrap drop-off locations: Fox Valley Park, the town house and Onatru Farm Park.

Mount Kisco

  • Bulk and leaf pickup once a year for residents only.
  • Free compost (when available).
  • Food scrap drop-off is accessible 24/7 at the DPW facility (43 Columbus Ave.).
  • Free parking at the municipal lot (non-permit spots only) on holidays (Thanksgiving to Christmas) and weekends year-round.

North Salem

  • Shredding truck in April and October at the courthouse/police station (66 June Rd.).
  • Mobile passport truck, every July at the North Salem Town Hall Campus (266 Titicus Rd.).
  • E-ZPass pre-packaged account kits are available for $25.
  • Electronic waste drop-off is at 66 June Rd. in the lobby, Monday through Thursday, 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Pound Ridge

  • Movies at the park from June to September are free to all.

Your bank account will thank you

Your local library and town are invaluable, and often underutilized, resources when it comes to saving money. With a wealth of unexpected services and surprises, they can cater to many of your needs.

While we did our best to provide you with an extensive list, services do change, so be sure to check with your local library and town for a list of their current free programs and perks. And if you are still looking for something, just ask. They want to share their resources with the community, and you might be amazed at how willing they are to talk about it.

This article was published in the January/February 2024 edition of Connect to Northern Westchester

Susan Trumpbour
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Susan Trumpbour, a.k.a. ‘Dear Beauty Editor’, has spent over 20 years as a beauty editor, new product development executive and trend consultant. If she isn’t writing about beauty, she’s creating shades and formulas for top cosmetics houses like L’Oréal, Maybelline and Neutrogena. In her spare time, she enjoys hiking the beautiful trails in Bedford, where she lives with her husband, two sons and their white fluffy rescue dog.