The Santa Barbara Public Library system is offering a variety of new, free programs available online – and all you need is a library card.

In the last two years, the county’s six libraries have added 631 newspapers from all over the world, as well as 8,317 magazines and journals on their website, www.sbplibrary.com.

About 3,600 of the magazines and journals in this “Elibrary” are full text; the others are indexed.

Spanish speakers benefit from the program as well; the library offers these publications from the U.S. and Spanish-speaking countries.

“It’s just amazing what you can access by putting your library card in,” says Louisa Bird-Robinson, branch supervisor at Montecito Public Library. “You don’t have to pay for your New York Times anymore.”

The library also offers Reference USA online, which gives information on more than 12 million United States businesses, organizations and agencies, and another one million from Canada.

Reference USA can also give residential information gathered from more than 3,900 white pages telephone directories as well as information from the latest US census about median home value, median household income and percentage of owner-occupied housing in the area.

For those interested in even more census information, the library utilizes American Fact Finder for census numbers on U.S. states, countries, places, census tracts and block groups along with economic census records updated every five years.

The library’s online Health and Wellness Center provides a wide range of articles from magazines, newspapers, dictionaries and directories on health-related topics.

The county library system also presents Medline Plus, a database of extensive information on more than 650 diseases from the National Institutes of Health and other sources as well. Additionally, there is a list of hospitals and physicians, a medical dictionary, health information in Spanish, information on prescription and non-prescription drugs, health information from the media and more than a thousand health-related links to click on.

The library also contains InfoTrac online, which allows users to access articles on current events, popular culture, business and industry, the arts, science, sports and people featured in recent and historical news.

InfoTrac offers a junior edition for elementary school children and a student edition for high school students.

“We have gotten many positive comments about the convenience and quality of information,” says Irene Macias, collections manager for the online system, who adds that people are “able to satisfy their research, educational, recreational and informational needs by using the various products available.”

More than 900 downloadable audio books are also available online so that people can now “get popular titles without having to be on a waiting list,” says Macias. The books can be downloaded onto the user’s personal computer and the sound files can be transferred to any audio player, an iPod for instance.

“You can download a book onto your iPod and walk on the beach listening to it or go to the gym,” says Robinson, who mentions that the audio books are a special benefit for the handicapped.

“Elderly people or people who are losing their vision” can use the audio books, says Robinson. “It’s very cool how we serve the community.”

Another program that was just added at the beginning of this month will aid students needing help in their social studies classes.

The Social Studies Fact Cards are quick, easy to use online resources that allow the student to click on their country of choice and pull up a map of the country, as well as get information on its geography, animal species, government, religion, people and history, to name a few.

There is also information available about the California missions, Native Americans and history of the Old Spanish days of California.

Although the Fact Cards are geared for students in grades fourth through eighth, the library encourages older students to utilize the cards as well.

“Users now have the option of doing research from home instead of coming to the library,” says Macias.

The county library system has branches in Santa Barbara, Carpinteria, Goleta, Solvang and Montecito.

“Libraries are the ultimate in democracy,” says Robinson. “The information is accessible to everyone, no matter who you are and what the question is, you have a place to go and there is correct information available.”