Rediscovering Your Local Library

By MONICA BURKE

If you heard a rumor that the internet and ebooks were making libraries obsolete, it could not be further from the truth. In addition to playing an important role in local communities—offering everything from classes in ESL, technology support services, public space, and so much more to all ages and demographics—libraries still remain the best resource for bibliophiles.

One of my best friends just graduated with her master’s in library science after working at several libraries in various roles. She has been teaching me more about what libraries have to offer, and now it is my pleasure to share some of those resources with you, dear reader.

If you ever have questions about what resources are available to you, don’t hesitate to ask your local librarian—they are there to help you discover a new book, locate an answer to a tough question, or find the right research tools.

To get started, here are a few tips and tricks you may or may not already know about:

Your online account

Many libraries are moving towards incorporating newer technologies into local systems. They make it their mission to make these resources available to everyone. In this digital age, many libraries have moved their services online, making it easier than ever to locate and access the resources you need.

Look up your local library online, and see what they have to offer. Many libraries allow you to search their collections online, just like a Google search. This way you can place holds or requests on materials from the comfort of your home.

I love this feature because it saves me extra trips to the library. I will request the book I am looking for, and the library staff will place it on a special shelf with my name on it and send me an email notification that it’s ready to be checked out.

You can also use your online account to keep track of what materials you have checked out and when they are due.

Don’t have a library card? Many libraries allow you to apply online.

Subscriptions, databases, and more

Libraries subscribe to a variety of online resources and databases which are free for you to use. Resources might include genealogical databases like Ancestry.com, language learning programs, and online courses so you can acquire new skills. If you have a research project or you want to learn something new, check out your local library first. Knowledgeable librarians can save you time spent searching for answers and library resources can save you money on subscriptions to these services.

Some libraries are moving towards purchasing and lending more unusual items that might also come in handy, from camping gear to digital projectors, sewing kits to sports equipment. Go online and/or ask your local library if any initiative like these exist for your local system.

Interlibrary loan system

Is there a book, movie, or CD that you are interested in, but your local library doesn’t have a copy? Place an interlibrary loan request! I did not come across this service until I was in college, and it has been a game-changer. I was able to borrow books for my senior thesis from other academic libraries and expand my bibliography.

For an interlibrary loan (ILL), libraries borrow materials from other libraries on your behalf. This cooperative effort across library systems majorly expands what resources you have at your disposal. It really comes in handy if you are a member of a smaller community library with a more limited selection. If you are in a more urban area, your library might also share books within the local system itself, which also expands what you can check out.

If you don’t find a book on the shelf, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not available to you. Place an ILL request online from your library’s website, or ask a librarian to assist you.

Online media and apps

Almost every library offers e-resources today. This means that you can check out eBooks, audiobooks, music, movies, and more right on your computer or mobile device. Many libraries offer these resources through an app that you can download to your phone, such as Libby or Hoopla. Libby is great if you are a member of multiple libraries, as they will allow you to link your account to multiple library cards and browse the different collections each library has to offer.

This is hands down my favorite way to utilize my local library. I can place a hold for an audiobook in the Libby app which is automatically checked out when it becomes available, and I receive an email to let me know I can start listening. If I don’t finish the audiobook before it is due back to the library, the next time I check it out, the app picks up right where I left off. Now I have made a habit of downloading books to take with me on road trips. And the best part is, it’s completely free!

Local events

Libraries are about more than just books. They are important community centers and offer a variety of activities and resources for just about everyone. ESL, tech support, assistance in filing taxes, computer classes, story-time for kids of all ages—the list goes on and on!

If you are new in town and looking to become more involved or make new friends, your local library is a great place to start. I used to participate in a local writers’ group in my hometown that met monthly at the library, and I met writers of all ages through the group. They also host a knitting and crochet circle as well as weekly rounds of chess, Mah Jong, and bridge. Now, when I visit my new local library, I often come by during story time for parents and children under two, which as you can imagine is just adorable. My grandmother is a member of two book clubs at her local library, which has been a highlight of her retirement (and I get to read her copies of past book-club reads when I go to visit!). It’s never too late to get involved!

Libraries also host a variety of one-time events. For example, I check the website regularly to find out about used book sales at the various branches in my city. Consider signing up for e-updates to stay in the loop about what is new.

One of the great benefits to your local library is that it gets you involved in the community in ways great and small. From interacting with other patrons to getting involved with local clubs, libraries can help you to find personal connection in an increasingly digital and solitary age. Libraries are more necessary and vital than ever!