There’s a tragic misconception that, thanks to the introduction of the internet and e-books, public libraries are fading into irrelevance. After all, what’s the point of getting a book from your local library when you can just find the answer on Google?
This is simply not true. If anything, libraries have become even more relevant with as they have adapted to the digital age. They have adopted e-books and e-audiobooks into their collections. They have provided also public internet access to those who don’t have it. And they have offered an abundance of trustworthy resources for those looking to find information on a particular subject. (We’re sorry, but Wikipedia just isn’t the same.)
When COVID-19 forced public libraries to close their doors, library workers continued to find innovative ways to make their services available to the public.
Libraries are an especially important tool when it comes to research.
Whether it’s for a school assignment, a work project, or just for fun, here are four ways that you can go beyond books at your local library and become far more effective in your research, sometimes even without leaving your house!
1) Browse the Online Catalog
Search the online library catalog for books on your topic that are at your library. Some libraries allow you to search multiple branches (or sister libraries) within your library system all at one time. So you can place holds on books from several different libraries and pick them all up from the front desk of your nearest branch.
Many libraries even have their own app that allows you to browse the catalog on your phone. So if you can’t find a title available in print, ask about your library’s e-book collection!
2) Take Advantage of Interlibrary Loans
Most libraries today allow you to borrow from a larger system through an interlibrary loan. Often, you can search catalogs in other libraries from around the state — even from around the country! — and have the books sent to your local library for your use free of charge. If you aren’t sure how, your librarian can help with this.
Sometimes you don’t even need to wait for the books or other media to be delivered. Many larger city libraries partner with smaller rural libraries to offer free access to their materials. Often all you need to do is show your local library card to open a world of possibilities. So find out what kinds of programs your library belongs to if you live within a few hours of a big city. And ask about reciprocal programs with nearby universities, too!
3) Utilize Library Subscription Services
It’s hard to sift through all the fake news out there. Thankfully, library subscription services offer access to reliable essays, journal articles, newspaper articles, documentaries, and more. A library subscription service is a service that pays journals, newspapers, and magazines all around the world for access to the full text of the articles published in those periodicals. Libraries and colleges then subscribe to this service, and all their patrons are free to search through all of the information available.
What this means is that, instead of a library having to subscribe to thousands of magazines and you having to look through them individually for what you want, it is all available online in one single search. Some popular subscription services are: Academic Search Premier, InfoTrac, Lexis-Nexus, ERIC, and GaleNet Group. Your librarian can direct you to the best database for your particular project.
Your free library card gives you access to thousands upon thousands of articles. Many are nowhere to be found on Google either. Often these services are accessible through the library’s website, which means you don’t even have to physically go to the library to use them!
4) Ask a Librarian
The best resource of all comes in the form of a human being: your librarian!
Librarians love to help students with research. They are experts at helping you to use the online catalog and know about all the services available to you. In addition, the librarians can help you to learn how to effectively use online databases when searching for articles. Never be afraid to ask a librarian for help!
The next time you’re doing research and feeling overwhelmed by Google, turn to your local library!
To learn more about research and to practice it with guidance, check out our workshop on Introduction to Academic Essays.