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January 30, 2019

What you can borrow at Philly libraries besides books: baking pans, blood pressure cuffs, birding bags and more

Community Libraries
Central Branch Free Library of Philadelphia Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice

The Central branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia.

At a library in Florida, you can borrow a fondue kit. There's one in Oregon that rents a bubble machine. And there's my personal favorite – a library in Mississippi that rents Santa suits.

Libraries have transformed into more than just quiet places to read books, in Philadelphia too. They're rich with resources for communities – even for someone who loves fondue. 

The Free Library of Philadelphia's branches have some unusual and unexpected resources of their own available to anyone with a library card. 

The South Philadelphia Branch, at 1700 South Broad St., is home to the Health Lending Library, where you can start portioning out your meals with a borrowed food scale or track your blood pressure with a sphygmomanometer – that's the real name of that cuff the nurse puts on your arm that inflates and squeezes so tightly.

At Parkway Central, at 1901 Vine St., the library is celebrating two years of its Musical Instrument Collection lending program. Instead of investing in a brand new instrument before you know if you have a knack for it, you can borrow an instrument for three weeks. They've got banjos, steel drums, keyboards, bongos, mandolas, guitars, amps, and the cords you need to hook them up.

Apparently 70 percent of people who checked one out were trying to learn how to play a new instrument, according to the public libraries data, and 23 percent said they used the loaner to write an original musical composition. 

In New York, the library system is spearheading an effort to make event clothes available to people who don't have access to often overpriced items like prom dresses, suits, ties, or briefcases. Here's what they offer now.

Philly has its own iteration of that in the "Tiebraryat the Paschalville Library6942 Woodland Ave. in Southwest Philly, as port of the branch's Job Readiness Lab. There you can use the computer for three hours at a time to make a resume, create a LinkedIn profile or browse job listings. Here's what else they do there.

Into bird watching? What about cooking? Several (I repeat: several) locations – including North Philly's Cecil B. Moore and Widener libraries and the Andorra branch in Roxborough – offer birding backpacks that include binoculars, maps and a field guide. And the McPherson Square Library in Port Richmond has catalogued cake pans available for baking.

And for kids, the latest non-traditional item libraries have added is called the Bus Busy Bag. These are little packages parents can cary, or slip into their children's backpacks that are available for the 21, 42 and 52 bus routes through West Philly. 

Each Bus Busy Bag contains an illustration of a West Philly bus route that explains interesting facts about the neighborhood, board books for younger children, and story-starter cards with a small notepad and pencil so users can share a story with the library. 

Bus Busy Bags are available for pickup at the Blackwell West Regional Library, 125 S. 52nd St. 

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