Books and DVDs weren't what Ralph Mandarino wanted when he went to the Grosse Pointe Public Library. The 75-year-old retired businessman checked out a tree lopper and a tape measure, two of the more than 100 tools available to patrons of the suburban Detroit library. In a number of communities across the US, it's possible to borrow tools, musical instruments, fishing poles, and much more from the local public library. The trend expands the traditional role of the library as a community resource for free knowledge. Libraries see the programs as a new way to offer residents a chance to learn—just not necessarily with a book.
The Ann Arbor District Library associate director calls these items "unusual collections." "What we want to do is provide an added benefit to the community and provide them with things they might not have access to otherwise," she says; her library offers telescopes, art prints, energy meters, and drums among its varied holdings. Librarians say this isn't a response to any sort of perceived threat; still, the growing popularity of e-readers and online resources probably has played some role in spurring libraries to get creative with their offerings. "I can tell you this: You can't download a telescope," says the Ann Arbor associate director. Click for more of the unusual items you can borrow. (Read more library stories.)