Need Snowshoes? A WiFi Hotspot? A Violin? Try an NJ Library

Libraries lend so much more than just books, from garden tools to instruments. Did we mention they're free?

woman in library holding autoharp

Tierney Miller, head of Adult Services at Cherry Hill Public Library, shows off an autoharp from the library’s musical instrument collection. Photo: Courtesy of Cherry Hill Public Library

Need to borrow a WiFi hotspot? A projector and screen for a neighborhood movie night? Or maybe you want to learn to play an instrument but aren’t sure whether you’re ready to spend the money.

Your local library can probably help.

More and more New Jersey libraries offer a Library of Things—borrowable items you might not expect to find at these institutions.

At the Morristown and Morris Township Public Library, patrons can check out, among other things, snowshoes, a ukulele, or a metal detector, one of the most popular items. “People check it out all the time—it’s funny,” says director Chad Leinaweiver.

He says many patrons aren’t aware of everything the library has to offer.

The Ridgewood Public Library, too, has a metal detector in its Library of Things; one patron used it to find a lost ring, says assistant director Roberta Panjwani.

In the summer of 2023, Ridgewood held an open house to show the public everything the library had in its collection, from gardening kits to a sewing machine, and demonstrated how everything worked.

“The library’s always building these bridges,” Panjwani said.

One item, a portable air-quality meter, got some use due to the smoke drifting down from the Canadian wildfires. Families can also check out nature backpacks for adults and kids to take on hikes.

The Princeton Public Library places a lot of emphasis on its technology items, says assistant director Erica Bess. “Ours is mostly focused on tech because we feel we can make the biggest impact in removing barriers” to technology access, she says. In its Library of Things, patrons can check out hotspots, Chromebooks, or a smartphone media kit. The Princeton Public Library also has low-tech items, such as binoculars, on offer.

The library received a grant from LibraryLinkNJ to purchase special Little Thinkers kits, which include Toniebox audio systems that children can use to listen to songs and stories, or act them out. Those items have been extremely popular with families, she says, adding that they are almost always on loan and have a long waiting list.

At the Cherry Hill Public Library, patrons can borrow a wide range of musical instruments like guitars, ukuleles, and violins. Youth services supervisor Erica Moon says the violins are almost always checked out. Gardeners can take advantage of Cherry Hill’s extensive seed library of flower and vegetable seeds. Younger children and their families can check out jigsaw puzzles, or even an American Girl doll in the library’s collection. Each of the dolls comes with something extra: a journal for kids to fill in and a historical fact sheet about life in Cherry Hill corresponding with the doll’s time period.

“It’s just another way to be creative in the way libraries have always been,” says library director Laverne Mann.

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