Wednesday, September 12, 2007

10 ways to hack your local library

In the vein of lifehacker and their take on hacking the library, I thought I would pass along some tips on how to maximize your local public library.

1. Check out books

Right now, you are probably thinking to yourself, "Is that really a tip?" or something to the extent of "Duh, I knew that." Many patrons do not fully grasp how important it is to check out books. When you check out a book, it goes right into our stat counter and we realize that you, our patron, like the book. If that book is checked out several times, we buy similar books to that same book. So make sure you check out your favorite books if you want them to stay in the library. Furthermore, the more you check out, the more books we buy to your exact taste. Did you love The Kite Runner? Then we will buy A Thousand Splendid Suns, Diana Abu-Jaber's Cresent, Yasmina Khadra's The Swallows of Kabul, and others. Think about that for a moment. You can build your own personal library in your local public library. Those books can just be sitting there for you and they will always stay in there as long as you check them out.

2. Don't see it, ask us to buy it

The library purchases books for you to use. Librarians rely on reviews and circulation statistics to make decisions on purchasing. We don't always catch everything. We rely on patrons to tell us what books they want not only by the number of times a book or books are checked out, but also by what is requested to purchase. With the thousands of books that are published every year, we may miss one that is important to you. That new book you saw on Oprah (like the Secret), or that book you heard on NPR (A World Without Us), ask us to buy it if we don't have it yet. Our purpose is to buy books for you to use, so if you don't see it ask us to purchase it.

3. The world is at your fingertips with Interlibrary Loan

Did you know that most libraries can almost any book in the United States through a process called Interlibrary Loan (ILL for short)? Need some obscure title that is out of print? We can get it. Looking for some genealogy information and it's only in that one book in New York? We can get that too. If we don't have it, you can even check what library does on The turnaround time is often amazing. My library gets it back to you 10 days from a request ON AVERAGE!

4. Don't know what to read, ask us, or ask us anything, really!

We have many resources and we are trained to draw out your likes and dislikes so that we can recommend books to you. Librarians are here to field just about any questions. Sure if it is simple, you might think using a search engine like Google will get your answer. However, if it is complicated, do you really want to trust a search engine to get the exact information you need? You might be searching for hours, when a call to the local library can get the same information in five minutes.

5. Be our Friend and you get a longer check-out (teachers and homeschoolers too)

Almost every library has an organization called the Friends of the Library. They are there to help support the library for special projects, marketing, and more. If you don't have time to give, you can just pay for a membership. Membership usually entails longer check-out periods. Yes, that's right, it means you can have your favorite book for 28 days instead of 14 often for as little as $10 a year! Another secret is that if you are a teacher or a homeschooler, you can the same privledge, but for you it is free! You just need your teaching certificate or affidavit for homeschooling.

6. Ask us for services

We rely on feedback from patrons, so if you want the library to have certain resources or services, ask for them. Some libraries can even provide services at a cost. For instance, we sell flash drives for $5. It has a 256mb memory and holds the equivalent of 88 floppy disks. Yes this is not free, but it much cheaper and much valuable. Sometimes budgets don't allow for changes, but it doesn't hurt to ask. You may be surprised.

7. Return books

Again, this may seem silly, but we really need the books back. It takes an awful long time to replace the book and we are often so nice we give you the benefit of the doubt even if you have had it for three months. Don't be mean to us, return the book, even if it is late. Late fees are not even that much anyway for books (average is 10 cents a day). Most libraries offer a grace period so even if the book is late, you may not have to pay anything. Libraries often have services like Food for Fines so even if you have late fees, you can pay them off with canned food and Top Ramen and give to charity at the same time. However, we don't allow patrons who have lost items to replace them in this way. Another little incentive to return our stuff.

8. Ask about our services
Many libraries have expanded services, ways to help you keep track of your books (Library Elf), ways to have books sent to you by mail (books by mail) and many other services. We try to market, but if our library brochure had all of our services on it, it would be lost in a sea of text. So ask us about whatever is on your mind. If you are a dedicated bibliophile, you can also keep track of what you are reading through a reading list. Many libraries have this functionality and you can log into your library account to do it. See some books you want to read, you can save a title list in your account. You can also download a title list onto your computer and upload it to goodreads so that you can keep track of what you want to read.

9. Databases are good

Yes you may look at a library website and wonder, what the heck is a database. As Terry Dawson would put it, a database is something with data in it :) A database is a warehouse of online information that you cannot find by using a search engine. Need to rebuild that 1982 Toyota Corolla, the library has a database where you can print out all the instructions and even tips when you get stuck. Looking for that newspaper article from the New York Times or Wall Street Journal and it is stuck behind a pay wall, a database will crack it open for you. Did I mention this was free?

10. In fact EVERYTHING is free
Books, movies, music, online information, even items that can be downloaded from the web. The library may not be the fastest to get a book or movie, but it will get it, and it will be free to you.

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Anonymous said...

Nice list - just one quibble: everything is not "free"! Most things have "already been paid for by your taxes" - so please support necessary tax increases when the library (or city or county or whatever) requests them.

jdscott50 said...

Very true! It is already paid for by taxes. However, if you look on the return on investment, it's pennies to the dollar of service.

Thanks for the comment.

Anonymous said...

Very true! It is already paid for by taxes. However, if you look on the return on investment, it's pennies to the dollar of service.

You'd be surprised at just how many people don't know this!

jdscott50 said...

Yes they do, at least, they know their taxes pay my salary :)

Paul Capewell said...

Great post! Very good tips there. It also started a train of thought which you can read here but which does admittedly turn into a wreck of tangents and subjects. Most interestingly, the notion of anything other than books and magazines being free to patrons. Certainly not the case here, so interesting to read about libraries over the pond.

Thanks :)

Nancy Dowd said...

Hey Jeff-nice job creating a positive list.

CSL said...

That's a hilarious title to a great article. I didn't know about the teacher getting free "Friends of the Library" membership; I'll be sure to pass that on to someone I know. I otherwise abuse my library like it's nobody's business, usually receiving an item a month through ILL (I'm averaging it out, I usually get several items at once), CDs, books, DVDs, Blu-Rays, memberships at various library systems across the state, and I try to bike to the library as often as I can (today: in the rain). And finally, I'm convinced libraries are thrice as popular as they were in the early 90s. (They sorta got a bad rap before their catalogs became computerized.)