Shhhh… Secrets of the Austin Public Library

If knowledge is power, then the Austin Public Library System is pretty much a nuclear power plant.

Of course, the system is chalk full of interesting books, DVDs and CDs. But did you know that you can get free access Consumers Reports ratings and articles? How about downloading free ebooks and audiobooks for your next vacation? Ever consider checking out a specialized water or energy meter to trim your utility bills?

Austin’s user-friendly system has a lot of lesser-known services, special events and ways to get the materials you want — even when the library doesn’t already have them.

So, let’s explore the possibilities.

Getting What You Want

The first trick many library users master is requesting popular or hard-to-find materials that aren’t already shelved at your local branch. If the library already has the title you’re searching for, you can place a hold on it. If you provide them your email address, they’ll notify you when the title arrives. Or you can just call 512-874-7400 and request the book and set up a notification. Once the book arrives, you have 10 days to pick it up or cancel your hold — if not, you’ll be charged a $1 unclaimed hold fee.

The inter-library loan program allows people to request one book — not DVDs, CDs or other materials — that is at least a year old and isn’t already in the system.

A final option is to suggest that the library purchase the materials you want. Just submit a “suggest a title” form that describes what you want. The library will follow up with you on the request. Because so many of Austin’s unique residents have made requests over the years, many library branches have eclectic books, music and movies that you might not expect a library to have.

Free Consumer, Health and Reference Resources

Consumer Reports is one of the most trusted guides for homeowners who are remodeling or purchasing new appliances, electronics or vehicles. But not everyone is a subscriber. The good news is that you can access their ratings and more for free as long as you have a library card.

Homeowners can also help make smart decisions by checking out water or electric meters to temporarily monitor the usage of hoses and appliances.

But it doesn’t end there. Check out the system’s extensive databases for access to health and science journals, historic news articles and home improvement references.

Curated Books, Movies, Music and more

The Austin Public Library system’s virtual library has hundreds of streaming movies, albums, ebooks and audio books. For example, just having a library card grants you access to The Criterion Collection of films, ranging from classics from Charlie Chapman to rare horror films from the 1920s.

American Song, Freegal Music and Austin Music Page allow library card holders to listen to thousands of albums online.

Meanwhile, you can access educational resources, such as Mango Languages and Do-It-Yourself to help you learn valuable skills at no cost.