Ten Ways to Be Super-Productive While at Home with (Digital) Help From the Library

Social distancing or isolation because of COVID-19 shouldn’t mean boredom. Public libraries have long provided a fantastic assortment of online and digital resources for people who are going to be at home for a while.

Social distancing or isolation because of COVID-19 shouldn’t mean boredom. Public libraries have long provided a fantastic assortment of online and digital resources for people who are going to be at home for a while.

From entertainment and diversions to education and discovery, the library's digital and online resources should be a part of your self-quarantine kit. Your local or state library has free digital books, magazines, free streaming movies and shows - and even homework help for kids - along with amazing courses, datasets, and skill-building that can help you discover, launch and carry out new projects. Luckily, all it takes is a library card, and some libraries now allow you to get a card on their website, without leaving your chair!

Here are ten great digital and online projects anyone can do using your library (and not have to worry about that one guy sneezing all over everything).

  1. Research Your Family Tree 
    Genealogy has been a mainstay of library services for decades with large systems having librarians and whole collections dedicated to researched family history from multiple perspectives. These days, those collections include free access to websites like HeritageQuest, Ancestry.com (including fold3 for military records), and digital access to small town newspapers dating back hundreds of years. Plus, if the idea of delving into your family's past seems intimidating, you can always give your library a call and they can set you on the right path to uncovering knowledge of your ancestors!

  2. Learn a New Skill
    Lifelong learners never quit bettering themselves in numerous ways and the library is a prime partner in that regard. Besides offering ebooks on nearly any topic you want, libraries also have high-quality vetted online courses on topics such as accounting, photography, and grant writing, or fun stuff like travel writing or game design. Services like Lynda.com, Udemy, and Gale Courses, which can run up to several hundred dollars for yearly subscriptions are free from your library. The real question to ask yourself is: What would you like to learn today? 

  3. Master a Language
    ¿Quiere aprender español? Well, it's never been easier. Alongside free apps such as DuoLingo, consider the up-beat and insightful Mango Languages. Mango is a service offered by many libraries that can be used on the computer or via a mobile app. Probably the best thing about Mango is it's entertaining tone -- let's face it, learning from a textbook can be dour, Mango provides the antidote with fun cultural sections on topics such as "Wine and Cheese" (French), "Flamenco Dancing" (Castilian Spanish). Of course, you can also choose to learn Russian slang. Mix Mango with a traditional resource like foreign-language audiobooks and movies  (both available digitally), and your life as an international spy comes one step closer!

  4. Craft Something
    Over a decade ago, libraries took a pivot towards encouraging "Making" as a central part of their purpose. Subsequently, many libraries went and equipped themselves with 3D printers, laser-cutters, and other tech doo-dads to put into Makerspaces. What has been around even longer, and never left libraries is their penchant for classic age-old crafting programs. In addition to going wild on Pinterest, librarians also put together resources like the Hobbies & Crafts Reference Center from the Michigan eLibrary. And if you're into vintage inspiration, do ask your librarians about their digitized historic magazines, newspapers, and other goodies that may get you going with crafting dreams you never knew you had!

  5. Start a Business
    It's about time, right? The American Dream is fueled by scrappy small business owners and solo entrepreneurs. Libraries own this fact and celebrate it, which is why many offer small business incubators, tons of print resources for business owners, and even in-person consultations with business librarians. This passion for helping self-starts doesn't stop at the door. Online resources like the Gale Business: Plan Builder, and the plethora of free market research databases lend support to anyone who desires the autonomy of forging their own path in the business world.

  6. Get Your Paperwork in Order
    The legal system can be complicated, frustrating, and intimidating, which is why lawyers charge so much money to help you navigate it. But hold on! Before you call that attorney, the library is here to help you get the lay of the land in law country. From databases that give you the complete and fully-updated run of the accessible Nolo Press books, to specialized research assistance from a specially-trained librarian at your local law library, a look (and maybe a phone call) to the library could get you on your way to justice. Maybe you could save a bit on attorney fees, too.   

  7. Start or extend your education 
    Are you one of the many people out there who, for some reason, wasn't able to finish high school? It's hard to get back into the classroom after years in the real world, and not many working people can find the time. If you are committed, however, libraries across the country have a program called Career Online High School that provides a fully online, self-paced way to fit in getting that diploma as an adult. And it's not simply a diploma program, part of the experience is getting a credentialed career in areas such as office management, homeland security, childcare and education, and more. This is honestly one of the most life-changing of the opportunities libraries offer to their patrons.

  8. Let Out Your Inner Cinephile
    If you're going to be spending more time at home, libraries offer free streaming movie apps like Hoopla and Kanopy that can bring you closer to seeing all 100 of AFI's top films. You can watch top-notch popular movies and expand your tastes to the avante-garde of film-making from around the world. Thrillers, documentaries, comedies, rom-coms, or whatever genre you prefer, the streaming services libraries offer have them all. Every night can be movie night with your library card!

  9. Create (and Release) Your Own Ebook
    Let's say you've worked for years on a manuscript of a memoir or novel and it's finished. What now? You can go the traditional route by seeking an agent and a publisher, or go with a vanity press and pay to have your book published. You might be interested to know that another option exists! Many libraries have Biblioboard, a web-based platform that gives you the tools to format your manuscript into different types of digital files (in case you want to sell it on some other websites), and put it online in various collections on their stylish website. Biblioboard loves to promote books on its platform so they frequently run contests and spread the word about books just like yours. 

  10. Explore Your Community
    Are you one of those people who lives in a place and knows little to nothing about it? Now's the time to fix that! Your local library website could have a plethora of hyperlocal community news & views as images or text. Another place you might look is the Digital Public Library of America (dp.la), a search engine that has been fed items from archives, libraries, museums, local history societies, universities, and other sources from all over the United States. Rivaling Europeana (a similar website of European collections), DPLA has both a fantastic and deep search feature, and a bunch of online exhibitions including the eerily appropriate "America during the 1918 Influenza Pandemic." DPLA is truly catnip for the curious. Be careful going there if you're low on time as you might get back to yourself many hours later. Don't worry, though, what you lost in time, you gained in the richness of knowledge, and satisfaction by time well spent.

If you don't already use the digital and online resources from your local or state library, now's the time. With great free resources, libraries will help you not only pass the time but also to put it to good use. And these were only ten examples of how you can socially isolate and still have an invigorating and productive time. Creative library users are well-aware that there are many more good times one could have with a computer, a library card, a sense of adventure, and a little initiative.