10 Tips for Getting the Most Out of the Public Library

We love libraries here at Pages Unbound! And, because of that, we also know there is always so much more to learn, even for avid library users. Below are a few of my tips for getting the most out of your public library. Feel free to leave your own tips in the comments!

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Search the catalog for books you want to read before the release date. This ensures you will be among the first to borrow them.

Did you know that libraries often put books in the catalog before the book hits the shelves? Sometimes even before the book is released? If you search for a book before the release date, it may show up with a tag like, “On order,” or, “Being catalogued.” This means the book is being purchased and the library is getting it ready by putting all the labels on it and coding it so it is ready for checkout. You can still place a hold on it, though! And if you are early and fast enough, you will be among the first (if not the first) on the wait list!

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Use the Suggest a Purchase form to borrow books your library does not have–and get on the wait list early.

If you do not see the book you want to borrow, you can ask the library to buy it. This works for new releases and other titles you are interested in. I especially like to put in purchase requests for new releases that are not in the catalog because the library will then put that title on hold for me. I don’t have to remember to put it on hold later, and I will theoretically be number one on the wait list!

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Take advantage of interlibrary loan to borrow books from across the U.S. (Also usually works for DVDs, audiobooks, and CDs.)

I often hear people complain that their library does not offer all the books they want. Sometimes this is due to space or budget constraints. But, fear not! Most U.S. public libraries offer interlibrary loan. You just fill out a form and a librarian will contact another library to have the book send to you. I have seen some libraries charge a nominal fee for this service, but it is still cheaper than buying the book if you are on a budget.

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Visit the library website often to be among the first to register for cool programs and free giveaways.

Library programs that are especially cool are often quick to fill, so I make sure to visit the website regularly to make sure I am aware of all upcoming programs, events, and giveaways. This is helpful, too, because even though the library social media team does a wonderful job with advertising, the library offers way too much for it all to appear on any one social media platform. (Pro tip: Not all library websites are created equal/updated regularly, but the events calendar at least is usually current, even if not beautiful.)

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Use the comment form to offer suggestions such as ideas for new services or future programs.

Libraries usually take their mission to serve the public seriously, and I have generally gotten the sense that the library had looked into my suggestions even if they could not all be implemented at the time. Any time I read a news article about a cool service another library offers, I have passed this on in some way–a survey response, a talk with a staff member, a comment form. So if you are wondering why your library cannot offer a type of outreach event you have seen elsewhere, or why they do not circulate some non-book item you have seen others circulate (think video games, STEM kits, museum passes, etc!), or anything else, why not…ask? The library wants to know that its services are reaching people and being appreciated, so the staff will in all likelihood start looking at the feasibility of at least some of these suggestions. And don’t worry if you don’t hear back. Sometimes I didn’t hear back–but I saw my idea being implemented later, anyway. Whether I was the inspiration or just confirmation that the service was welcome didn’t matter–I felt like my feedback had ultimately been heard.

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Ask about any non-book items you can borrow.

Many libraries now offer what is called a “library of things”–anything from seeds to museum passes to telescopes to art kits. If you aren’t certain what the library has on offer, you can ask at the desk or peruse the website to see what is available. Sometimes what is on offer can be surprising, and not anything you would have thought to ask about specifically!

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If you have a large or complex request, consider calling ahead.

I’ve seen other people do this and it makes a lot of sense! Sometimes people have very specific requests, like they are looking for historical fiction about a certain time period for a specific grade. Maybe they are homeschooling or want a selection of books for their class. If it’s going to take the librarians a bit of time to look up and track down a bunch of titles, ask if it’s more convenient for them if you call ahead and have them gather a selection that will be ready for you to peruse when you arrive. They will be able to work in the request at a time when they may not be as busy at the desk, and you will not have to follow them around awkwardly for fifteen minutes while they search the collection.

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Talk to library staff whenever you have a question or concern.

Yes, I’ve had poor experiences with library staff over the years, but, most of the time, they really are there to help. If you notice something like book three of the series you are reading is missing, let them know. They might order it for you. Or if you have a hold that is about to expire, but something prevented you from picking it up, call and see if they are able to extend the hold for a day or two. Many people never approach the library desk for a variety of reasons. But often talking to a staff member can lead to solutions you did not know were available. (Pro tip: Being nice always results in better outcomes than yelling!)

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Contact the branch that is responsible for a specific event or program.

I always like to contact the branch that is responsible for a specific program, event, giveaway, or initiative. It may feel awkward to do this if they are not the usual branch you go to, but the staff there will presumably know more about the topic and will be able to help you more easily. They may also offer courtesies for you that other branches will not simply because the staff at other branches do not want to step on anyone’s toes, or offer a courtesy they are not sure their colleagues can fulfill. It’s always best to go right to the source!

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Take time to explore the library website.

When I have time, I just click around the library website to see what is on offer. This is how I have discovered useful databases for myself and family members, ongoing initiatives that may not be getting advertised at the moment, useful newsletters I can sign up for, non-book items that get circulated, and more. Sometimes I even browse the library websites of friends and family so I can pass on information they might not have known about. How would they know to sign up all their little ones for something like the Imagination Library unless I sent them a link, right? Library websites are really a trove of information, even if some are admittedly out-of-date and hard to navigate. Checking back regularly means I am less likely to miss out on something spectacular.

What are your tips for getting the most out of your library visits?

12 thoughts on “10 Tips for Getting the Most Out of the Public Library

  1. _tirilu says:

    I’m always so jealous when I read about what possibilities there would be for libraries. All the things you are talking about – around here that’s just not a thing. In my new hometown I heard the library has at least an online catalogue. Which is something novel for me since not even my old one – which had considerable more people – had in their library.
    Unfortunately the opening times of the library around here suck as well, so I will have to be forever jealous of the great libraries you are talking about.


    • Krysta says:

      Yeah, sadly a lot of libraries are underfunded, so they don’t all offer all the amazing things I wish they did…. A lot of times it seems like it’s the big city ones that get a lot of funding and/or grants, and they have these amazing MakerSpaces and expensive outreach programs and so. And then smaller and rural libraries often can’t afford all that.

      I know my library will consider all purchase requests, but they won’t necessarily buy them all because of budget constraints. They often factor in things like how recently it was published and if they think other people will also want to check it out. They’re not necessarily going to buy a niche title just for me.

      And, oh yeah, the opening times! I’ve seen library hours shrink over the years as budget cuts happen. That’s often a bad sign because it’s something the public will immediately notice. Usually they try to cut costs elsewhere like in staff and collections buying before they cut the hours.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Krysta says:

      Good point! There is usually a way to request ebooks, too! I did it once and they got me the book–a year later! By that point I had gotten a copy of the physical book. But it’s a good backup and I think if you’re following the two a week policy, that’s fine.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Krysta says:

      I’ve found it varies by library. The best is when it’s online and you just fill out the form. But sometimes I’ve had to go to the desk and ask the staff to fill out a form for me. Which seems…antiquated?

      I definitely just asked the library to buy the upcoming Tolkien book because I don’t want to spend that much on it. Book prices have gone up with everything else!


  2. Jamie @BubblyBooks says:

    I love all the tips!! Sometimes I try and request books from the library and itโ€™s always the best feeling when they get approved! Great post ๐Ÿ˜Š


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