Best Library Freebie Ever? Loaner iPads Available

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Courtesy Apple

Think your local public library is hot stuff because it’s loaded with DVDs, e-books, and audio books? Some libraries not only loan out these items—oh yeah, regular old print books, too—but laptops, digital cameras, MP3 players, and even iPads, free of charge. The emergence of “tool libraries” also means that local residents can borrow ladders, table saws, cement mixers, wheelbarrows, wood chippers, and thousands of other pieces of equipment for DIY projects. All Things D noted recently that the public library in Eau Claire, Wisc., loans out iPads to patrons; the library has 44 iPads ready for the borrowing, and each is loaded with 1,000 books and 10 audio books.

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And this isn’t the only library handing out expensive gadgets to local residents. The public library in Darien, Conn., for instance, loans out iPads and Nook e-readers, as well as MP3 players, laptops, and digital cameras. Ohio’s Mentor Public Library has been loaning iPads and Nooks at least since last summer, and laptops and video players called Playaway Views are available for the borrowing as well.

If you’ve been on the fence about purchasing an iPad or other tablet—plenty of consumers have questioned whether they’re worth the investment—here’s an opportunity to give the new technology an extended test drive without spending a nickel. (Provided, of course, you return the gadget on time and don’t incur late charges.)

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While many libraries are embracing the newest gadgets, others are taking renewed interest in the most old-fashioned tech there is: tools. Tool libraries in places such as Berkeley, Calif., and West Seattle allow local residents to borrow wrenches, vices, hammers, and hundreds of other hand tools, along with an expansive selection of power tools—drills, table saws, sanders, and more. The most popular piece of equipment at the West Seattle Tool Library is the wood chipper, which makes sense: Who wants to own a wood chipper when you can borrow one for free the few times of year it’s needed?

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.