Public libraries really are gifts that keep on giving. Not only do they house more books than any one person could possibly read in a lifetime (except maybe the character Henry Bemis from the Twilight Zone episode “Time Enough at Last“), many also provide cardholders with access to free dictionary subscriptions.
What Is a Dictionary Subscription?
Dictionary subscriptions are paid, online access to up-to-date versions of a dictionary (e.g., collegiate, unabridged). They can also include access to associated references such as thesauruses and encyclopedias. As such, they differ from free online dictionaries in their depth and authority.
For example, a paid subscription to the Merriam-Webster Online unabridged dictionary has more than 250,000 words that aren’t available on the free website, Merriam-Webster.com. In addition, the subscription includes the collegiate dictionary, collegiate thesaurus, concise encyclopedia, medical dictionary, Spanish–English dictionary, and French–English dictionary.
There are many helpful, free dictionaries on the web. Yet, paid dictionary subscriptions are handy if you need to do advanced research or want an authoritative source to back up a grammatical choice. Because these subscriptions usually don’t allow outside advertising, they may also be a better choice for students. Homework is already fraught with enough distractions!
Where Can You Find a Dictionary Subscription for Free?
Individually, paid dictionary subscriptions cost $30 to $295 per year. But, participating libraries purchase group memberships that cover all their cardholders.*
For example, the Chicago Public Library, the Denver Public Library, and the New York City Public Library all provide access to the Oxford English Dictionary.
Many private library systems for universities, colleges, and K–12 schools also provide students with free access to dictionary subscriptions.
To find out if your library offers a dictionary subscription, look under headings such as eResources or Online Databases on its website. Most libraries have their online resources listed alphabetically and by category.
If your library does offer a dictionary subscription, you should be able to access it by logging into the library’s website using your library card number.
Most libraries welcome suggestions from cardholders. So, if your library doesn’t offer a dictionary subscription, consider sharing the idea with one of your librarians.
Further Reading: Which Dictionary Is Best for You?
*Public and private libraries pay for group memberships to dictionary subscriptions based on the number of users or visits. As such, the subscription services are reserved for individual cardholder’s private use only.