Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Getting the Most from your Library Card

I've mentioned many times before that I'm a lifelong enthusiastic library user with an outstanding local library.  I know many book lovers are too, but some have not developed the library habit, or have concerns that make them hesitate to make the most of this great resource.  Here, then, are my best tips for getting the most from your library card.

1.  SIGN UP.  Libraries I've used ask you to supply some sort of proof of local residence--often the envelope from bills addressed to you or your family.  Your ID might work too, depending on the system.  Public libraries in my area are 100% free of charge; they'll even replace lost cards for free (up to a point).  It's super easy.  If you're not sure what to do, ask anyone on staff.  They WANT you to sign up, so they're guaranteed to be helpful.

2.  OR DON'T.  Granted, you can't walk out the door with books if you don't have a library card. You can, however, browse the shelves, sit and read, or, usually, sign onto computers as a guest.  You can attend library events and ask questions of the research librarians.  If for some reason getting a card isn't feasible, that doesn't mean you can't use your library!

3.  LINKED ACCOUNTS.  My kids are pretty much crap at returning books.  I have their accounts linked to mine so I can help them track due dates.  My husband and I linked our accounts so we can pick up each other's holds (more on that later).  Both of these things have saved us many a headache.

4.  REQUESTS and HOLDS.  My library is part of a county-wide system of 18 libraries.  Chances are, if my library doesn't have a book I'm looking for, one of the other ones does.  Now, sure, I could hop in my car and drive across town to check out the book, since my card is good at all 18 branches.  Or I can request the book through my local library, and it will be delivered straight to the most convenient branch, often in a matter of days.  In the summer, I log onto the system and change my default library to the one that's by the playground and splash pad instead of the one that's on my way home from work.  Simple.

Holds are kind of the same thing, but from a different angle.  Let's say my library does have the book I want, but all copies are checked out.  They are all checked out at the other libraries as well, because the book is The Next Great Thing In Literature.  I can put it on hold and then go about my life.  When my turn comes, the library will let me know.  (Pro tip: If you find out about books before release, because book blogs, you can get on the holds list early and obtain the book right after release.)  Also--this one has been huge for me lately--I can put books on hold EVEN IF MY LIBRARY HAS THEM ALREADY.  They'll pull them off the shelves and keep them waiting for me in one convenient location.  So say I need 8 picture books for a project, but don't want to spend time scouring the stacks for them--I put a hold on them, and only need to dash inside the library for a few minutes to grab them.

5.  TECHNOLOGY.  Library computers are such a boon to a community, especially low income areas like where I teach.  Sure, everyone has a smart phone these days, but some types of research and writing are so much easier on a full keyboard, and you'd be surprised how many people don't have internet at home.  Even though I have full access, I still use library tech.  The cost of printing at a library, for the amount of printing I do, is far less than buying printer ink.  I can scan documents and make photocopies too.  Our library has a 3D printer and offers free sessions on it once a week.

6.  FREEBIES.  Pay attention.  Read flyers.  We all know libraries have story time for small children and summer reading programs for grade schoolers. Modern libraries can have many more options and programs going on.  Movies for kids, movies for adults.  Teen reading challengers, adult book clubs, musical performances, art shows, crafting parties, behind-the-scenes tours, raffles and contests--who knows what fun offerings your local library has?  You will know, once you take the time to find out!

7.  WANDER.  Not all who wander are lost, remember?  You may have your comfort zone in your library, whether it's New Releases, Westerns, or the cafe in the lobby.  Walk around your library.  Head down a different aisle than usual.

You don't have kids?  Check out the children's section anyway.  There are some terrific picture books out there, and sometimes you can also find fantastic murals, fun toys, or cozy seating there.  Venture from YA to adult fiction, from Fantasy to Mystery.  See what's available.

You read only fiction?  Wander up and down the nonfiction stacks anyway.  Anything you're interested in might show up in a book.  There are even books about loving books, if that is your ONLY interest.  You might pick up a cookbook, a book about building simple furniture with 2 x 4's, or Blogging for Dummies.  The great thing about a library is that if you only use one recipe, or you never wind up actually building that bench, it's okay--you didn't spend money on the book!  

Librarians also make some really fun displays.  A table showcasing "Royalty" might have The Red Queen, a biography of Queen Latifah, and some King Arthur legends.  They might collect gardening books in the spring, or books that you never knew inspired the movie.  Take a minute to look over the books they've pulled out for you.  Hidden gems have been revealed!

8. SAVE MONEY.  One common argument I hear against library use is, "But I never turn my books in on time, so I run up all these fines."  I'm not going to lie--I pay money regularly to my library.  But if I were to figure how much money I spend per book read, it would be in the pennies, at most.  FAR less than buying them, even used.  Anyway, I'd rather have my book money going towards the library than to Amazon.

Also, modern technology makes it super easy to keep on top of and deal with books' due dates.  I have my account set up so I get an email three days before books are due.  At that point, I can either return them or renew them (also online).  I only run into trouble when a) I ignore the email or b) there's something I can't renew, but I don't return it fast enough.  In short, if you're super organized libraries are entirely free.  If you're merely sort of organized, libraries are still the cheapest way for voracious readers to keep themselves in books.

Are any of these ideas new to you?  Have you taken advantage of any of them?  Do you have any to add?  What are your favorite aspects of libraries (besides BOOKS)?  


  1. This is a really great post about public libraries. I use our library a lot, and my two small children love it there, but this post gave me some new things to think about - like requesting a book before it's release date so I can get my grubby lil hands on it first. :)


    1. Yeah, I find that pretty satisfying myself!

  2. This is great that you're giving advice for libraries! They are a great resource, especially if you don't want to our can't afford to spend on books. I never actually visit the library, but I borrow books online. I actually didn't realize I could do this until recently, but I'm glad I finally did! I mean, it doesn't get any easier than sitting at home on my kindle and clicking a button and having the book return itself once the time is up so that I never have to pay a fine! Actually I think you may have inspired me to write some sort of elibrary post lol.

  3. I love my local libraries. I use the hold system all the time. i often am very tight on time, so I can jump onto the computer and search throught their catalog, then put a hold on items. Like you, it links through all libraries in the county. And if no library has was I want, as long as it is not a new release, most libraries have an in-state link or even outside to other districts (inter-library loans). So I request the books and when they are in, can quickly run in a grab what I want. t takes only a few minutes! And if I have free time to browse, great! I wish we had more in the way of classes, technology. Back in Co, my library offered free printing (up to 10 pages a day), free scanning, cheap faxing, and now have a 3d printer to use. My current library not so much but they do have basic computer use for getting online. Some libraries even games movies, music, games, etc for other family members. I use my library at least 2-3 times a month. Love it!!

  4. OH I how much I liked this post Wendy! My local library is my favorite place on earth. Their website is always open in my browser and in my iphone. I'm constantly browsing the new releases, the free programs they have. Unfortunately my interaction is mostly online. I wish I had more time to actually BE there :)

  5. I wish I could blame my kids for turning in books late, but it's really me. I do still agree though that I'm spending way less than if I bought them all!!

    (Now, if only I could find that library book that I lost last month ...)

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction


Please share your thoughts. Comments are almost as sweet as chocolate!