Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Getting the Most Out of Your Library

Libraries are one of the greatest inventions ever.  I love libraries.  As a frequent user I thought I'd share some tips.  I'm in Western Washington and visit the Sno-Isle, King County and Pierce County library systems.

Reciprocal Borrowing Agreements
Many libraries in the area have reciprocal borrowing agreements meaning that if you have a card through one library system then you can also get a card in another.  If you live on the border of two library systems then you have access to a larger selection of books, but even if you don't live near another system getting another card will give you access to a wider selection of online resources.

Online Resources
There are a lot of resources that are available from your library that you can access from your home which include:

  • Downloadable ebooks.  I have a Nook Color and can download ebooks from the library to my Nook.  I'm pretty sure that iPhone, iPad, and Android devices also have this capability.  If you have multiple library cards, then you have access to an even greater selection of online books.
  • Downloadable audio books.  I have found that the selection of audio books is a lot better than ebooks.  This is probably due to accessibility laws.  But if you do a lot of driving, audio books can be really great.
  • Music.  There are some CD's that are available for download.
  • Kids online books.  Many libraries have downloadable computer books in there catalog, as well as access to websites that contain online books (for instance Tumblebooks).  I also found about 30 audio book mp3s of popular children's books.  I was able to download them and burn them to a CD and listen to them in the car on long car rides.
  • Journal Articles.  Just as when you were in college and had access to various journal databases, many public libraries have access to these as well.  There is usually a database page on a library's home page that will lead you hear.  
  • Consumer Reports.  There is no need to buy a subscription to consumer reports (though they frequently email me) you may be able to access the site through your library.
  • Technical books.  King County library system has a huge database that allows you online access to tons of technical books.  This is great because these types of books are expensive and get out-of-date very quickly.  The books include lots of programming books as well as digital photography.
  • Databases.  In addition to the above mentioned databases there are genealogy, newspaper, car repair, job training and other interesting databases.
The library carries most popular DVD's including TV show season's on DVD.  While there is usually a long wait for the newer stuff the library is a free alternative to Netflix.

Interlibrary Loan

If your library doesn't have a book that you want you can request them to borrow it from another library.  This may take a few months, but if you aren't in a hurry it can be a good resource.


While most people know they can place holds on books from home.  I frequently do not make it to the library before my hold expires and am always bummed.  Depending on your library system holds may just be put back on the shelf at the library you were to pick them up at.  I think Pierce and King county send the item back to it's "home" library, but Sno-Isle has a revolving selection and if the item does not have another hold on it they just place it on the shelf at the library you sent it to so you might be able to go in and still get your item.

Reading History

Sno-Isle and Pierce county systems have an option that you have to enable that will keep track of all the books you have checked out.  This is a nice feature to help you keep track of all the books you have read.

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