Your Library Card Can Give You Free Access to a Lot More Than Books

Rhonda Jarrett of Largo, Fla., explores an exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg, Fla. The museum offers free admission through the Pinellas Public Library Cooperative. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

Don’t underestimate the money-saving might of a humble library card.

You don’t have to be a bookworm to benefit from your local library’s offerings. Some library systems allow you to reserve free or discounted passes to local museums.

Where I live in St. Petersburg, Florida, the Pinellas Public Library Cooperative offers free passes to three museums, including the Museum of Fine Arts.

Admission to the art museum costs $17 for adults and $10 for kids ages 7 to 18. A family with two adults and two children could save $54 a visit by using a museum pass from the library.

Anna Glenn, curator of public programs at the Museum of Fine Arts, said the museum pass program lets visitors explore the museum without any financial barriers. The program also strengthens the tie between the library and the museum.

“I love the fact that if [visitors] come and maybe they see an artist that they like, then they can go back to the library and do more research on the artist,” Glenn said.

Various library systems across the country help museum lovers save by offering free admission passes. We’ve highlighted a few programs below.

Check with your local library to see whether it operates something similar. Instead of free tickets, some library systems offer discounted admission or discounts on merchandise or parking.


Outside of the Art Institute of Chicago
The Chicago Public Library provides free passes to the Art Institute of Chicago and several other cultural attractions. benkrut/Getty Images

The Chicago Public Library has a Kids Museum Passport program that offers free museum passes for a dozen local attractions, including the Art Institute of Chicago, the Chicago History Museum and the Museum of Science and Industry. Library card holders can even get free admission at places that aren’t museums — like Brookfield Zoo.

Family passes are available for up to four people. Families must include at least one child under 18 and no more than two adults.

Families can check out one museum pass per week for a one-time visit per reservation. There is a 24-hour waiting period before library card holders are allowed to check out another pass to the museum they just visited.


The Denver Art Museum at night
Free admission to the Denver Art Museum is available to Denver Public Library card holders. milehightraveler/Getty Images

Those who have library cards with the Denver Public Library can get free admission at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, the History Colorado Center, the Molly Brown House Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver.

A party of seven can visit the nature and science museum with one museum pass. The history center and Molly Brown House will permit only groups of four per museum pass. The pass for the contemporary art museum covers admission for two adults.

Museum passes can be reserved up to 30 days in advance.

Library card holders can also get free tickets to shows and behind-the-scenes tours at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts.

Los Angeles

President Reagan's Final Resting Place
The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library is one of 13 museums that give free admission through the County of Los Angeles Public Library. CrackerClips/Getty Images

The County of Los Angeles Public Library — not to be confused with the city’s public library system — has a museum pass program that gives library card holders free admission at 13 museums, including the Craft & Folk Art Museum, the Japanese American National Museum and the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum.

Library patrons can make reservations up to three months ahead of time but can have only two active reservations at a time. Some passes will admit up to four museum visitors. However, the number of free tickets per pass varies by attraction.


 Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) at dawn, seen from Biscayne Bay.
Miami-Dade Public Library card holders can visit Pérez Art Museum Miami for free. Torresigner/Getty Images

The Miami-Dade Public Library System’s museum pass program lets library card holders check out free passes to 15 local attractions, including the Coral Gables Museum, the Miami Children’s Museum and Pérez Art Museum Miami. Though not technically a museum, Zoo Miami is also part of the museum pass program.

Library patrons can check out one pass per seven-day period. Passes provide one day of free admission for a family of four.

Patrons cannot renew the passes or reserve them for a specific date. Passes are first-come, first-serve.


The Seattle Art Museum sign, also known as SAM by locals, is captured with a long exposure.
The Seattle Art Museum is one of 15 attractions that offer free admission through the Seattle Public Library. 400tmax/Getty Images

Seattle Public Library card holders can visit 15 local attractions, including the Museum of Flight, the Seattle Art Museum and the Northwest African American Museum. The museum pass program even includes attractions that aren’t museums, like the Seattle Aquarium and the Woodland Park Zoo.

Library patrons can reserve one pass per week. However, they can’t reserve a pass to the same museum twice within 30 days. Passes can be reserved up to 30 days ahead of the scheduled date.

Museum passes offer free admission for at least two adults.

Nicole Dow is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She’s a big fan of public libraries — and free museums.