How to use the library like a librarian.

So, FYI, I'm almost a librarian. By "almost," I mean that I am less than a semester away from having a master's degree in library and information studies. This is a fancy way of saying that I know how to find stuff, evaluate stuff, and choose stuff for libraries. I spend a lot of time in, around, and thinking about libraries. When I'm not actually doing "library stuff," I'm probably reading a library book. I think it's safe to say that I know what's up when it comes to information agencies (fancy!). If you want to save money, learn stuff, watch movies, and generally have a better life, listen up. (Or read up. Shut up.) It's the free public library! Lest we (ever) forget, the economy is shot. According to an article in BusinessWeek (and summed up in The Consumerist), people are spending their hard-earned money on cheap liquor to drink at home. It's mildly depressing, but libraries are kind of secretly cheering. The bad economy makes people realize the value of the resources in their community, and libraries are one of those oft-forgotten resources. Library patrons don't pay anything out of pocket for library services; of course, most library funding is tax-based, so yeah, you are paying something. Whatever. You can walk into the library in your town, pick up five DVDs, a dozen books, and some Wii games, and walk out without spending a red cent. That's a bargain, and one of the main reasons libraries are awesome. Use WorldCat! [caption id="attachment_628" align="alignleft" width="284" caption="WorldCat is freaking sweet."][/caption] Most people outside of Library Land have never heard of WorldCat. This is silly. WorldCat is one of the best tools a savvy person can have in their posession. It's a worldwide catalog of books that pulls information from individual library catalogs. Example: you can search WorldCat for Little House on the Prairie, type in your ZIP code, and find libraries in your area that have copies to check out. Play with it sometime. It's awesome, and I use it all the time to verify bibliographic information and find copies of children's books. The magic of interlibrary loan If you live in an area with a library consortium or multi-library system, take advantage of it! Interlibrary loan (ILL) is one of the greatest uses of the public library. I live in Madison, Wisconsin, which is part of the South Central Library System. This is a huge system that encompasses most of southern Wisconsin. When I ILL a book, it can come from one of 63 libraries. This means I get my book quickly. Here's a library use tip: put tons of stuff on hold. If your library lets you put holds on items on their website, make a holds wishlist. Keep adding to it when you find more stuff you want to read, watch, or play. The secret: make all of your holds inactive. When you actually want to read, say, Going Bovine by Libba Bray, make the hold active again. This is a great way to keep track of what you want to read, and it makes it really easy to actually get stuff in your hot little hands. Audiobooks are pretty neat. I am a fan of audiobooks. However, my car does not have a CD player (I curse you, Volkswagen!). I need not fret. The public library has plenty of non-CD audiobook options. The first of these is a device called a Playaway. They are sort of like MP3 players that do nothing but play one audiobook. They're pretty cool, and you can sterilize them between users! (The company that makes them has a lot of hospitals as clients.) You hook them up to your stereo with an iPod/MP3-player cable, which is handy for me. There are only a few buttons on the device to control it: play/stop, fast forward, rewind, chapter forward, and chapter back. This makes Playaways easy to use for people who are terrible with technology. Downsides? Well, it only holds one audiobook, so if you're going on a long roadtrip, you'll probably need to get a few of them. Some public libraries have another way for their patrons to access audiobooks: a service called Overdrive. This is really cool. You can download MP3 audiobooks to your iPod or other player, or just listen to them on your computer. There are tons to choose from, and they are all high quality recordings. Downsides? You have to download a program to your computer to decrypt the files before you can actually listen to them, and you have to have iTunes installed. Also, the MP3 only stays on your computer for a week or two (depending on the lending period) before it disappears back into the ether. Librarians are smart cookies. You know how when you have a problem, sometimes other people can help you out? Because they know stuff you don't know? Librarians can be the epitome of helpfulness. We (and I hate counting myself as a librarian because I'm not one yet, but otherwise this will be really semantically confusing) are freaking overjoyed when people need our help and we can provide it. Finding information is our crack cocaine. [caption id="" align="alignright" width="306" caption="A librarian could help you find this book."][/caption] "My name is Amanda, and I'm an information retrieval junkie." Seriously. When you walk away from the reference desk, information in mind or in hand, we beam with pride and delight. And when we can't find your information (like your book, that movie you saw once with that guy who was also in that show... he has nice hair? you know, that guy?, the CD you really wanted to listen to, the capital of Slovenia [Ljubljana, by the way]), we get really sad. And we keep trying to find your stuff. It bugs us to not help you.  Occasionally, librarians will continue to look for your stuff long after you are gone. Then we will write it down and leave it somewhere so if you happen to come in another day, we can say, "Look! I found the thing you needed!" And then you are slightly creeped out. In short: librarians want to help you, so throw them a bone and ask for help. They (we!) are a great resource. It's pretty common knowledge that most librarians are ultranerds, so don't think your question is strange. I once had a patron call the reference desk, while intoxicated, to ask what time the Packers game was going to be on, and on what channel. I looked it up. She then proceeded to invite me to the bar to watch the game. I didn't go, because that's weird, but I did think to myself, "A drunk person just called the library for something they could have gotten on the Internet. We are still relevant!" You bet your sweet bippy. Not only will using the library like a librarian entertain and educate you more effectively, but it gives librarians a sense of peace in the world. No need to panic, librarians: people still need you.

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Amanda Hyphenated is a librarian in Madison, Wisconsin. She likes cats, coffee, tattoos, and young adult literature. Her obsessions include The Clash, Stephen King, and Castle Crashers.

7 Responses to “How to use the library like a librarian.”

  1. Natalie February 3, 2010 at 8:44 pm #

    I happen to frequent the st Louis public library on a weekly basis. I love my library lady – Maureen. She helps me get my nerdy (academic) history books. Hooray for librarians!!!

  2. Alice Sneary February 4, 2010 at 7:55 am #

    Thanks for this great romp through why librarians and libraries are more relevant than ever in today’s economy and lifestyle, Amanda. We’re building a page on with quotable quotes, and I’d love to include something from your post. Probably something like, “WorldCat is one of the best tools a savvy person can have in their posession…[it is] freaking sweet.” Would you mind? We’d like back here, of course.

  3. Amanda Hyphenated February 4, 2010 at 8:15 am #

    Of course, Alice! That would be fantastic!

  4. Mary-Justine February 4, 2010 at 9:43 am #

    I use ILL all the time here in California – I get to pull from both San Bernardino county (largest in the country) and Riverside county. I’ll just bet there’s no book I can’t find. The inactive hold list is a great idea – I’ll have to explore that. Thanks!

  5. Matt February 5, 2010 at 4:53 am #

    I live in Ocean County NJ now and the library system here is ridiculously good. I can browse the catalog online and request books from any town in the county. It just so happens they have a HUGE graphic novel section. I had been out of comics for a while but now that it’s so convenient to reserve and pick them up, all for free, I’ve been catching up on titles such as Powers and The Walking Dead, as well as going back to read older stuff I missed.

  6. Brandon February 5, 2010 at 11:07 am #

    Matt, if you are retroactively going back as far as Powers, I would highly recommend the Bendis written, Ultimate Spider Man

  7. Diana February 9, 2010 at 2:59 pm #

    I have to say, as a grad student, interlibrary loan is one of my most favorite things on Earth. And in Ohio we also have O-link, which means I have access to any information (database or physical book) within the state of Ohio.

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