15 Ways Students Can Benefit from Using the Public Library

15 Ways Students Can Benefit from Using the Public Library

Most people realize that the public library houses books that students can borrow for homework and assignments. But the library offers so many more resources for students–everything from tutoring to databases with information on finding scholarships and applying for college. Below are 15 ways that students can start using the public library to its full potential.

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Find Homework Help & Tutoring

Many if not most public libraries offer tutoring. You can check your library’s website for any live tutoring options, or check their list of online resources to see if you can connect with a tutor online. You may also be able to access online resources where you can submit papers, cover letters, or resumes for feedback from a real person.

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Prep for Standardized Tests

Yes, the public library has physical books that offer advice and practice tests for things like AP exams, the SAT, and the ACT. But the library may also have online resources that offer the same thing–so you won’t have to wait for that other library patron to return the book. Look for digital resources such as Learning Express Library or Peterson’s Test and Career Prep on your library’s website.

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Research Colleges, Scholarships, & Financial Aid

Public libraries often offer books that will provide college applicants with information on college admissions, scholarships, and financial aid. However, don’t forget to look on the library’s digital resources page for these tools, as well. Try finding resources such as Learning Express Library or Peterson’s Test and Career Prep on your library’s website. Or check the library’s website for any upcoming programs that focus on these topics.

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Research Careers

Digital resources that focus on homework help and standardized test prep may also include resources that allow individuals to research careers–the outlook for the job, potential earnings, needed skills, and recommended paths to being hired. Or the library may link to outside resources such as the Occupational Outlook Handbook from the U.S. Department of Labor.

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Access Credible Sources

Many classes focus on teaching students how to find and vet credible sources. The good news is, the public library has usually done this work for you! Visit the library’s digital resources page to see what databases they pay for–these databases typically include peer-reviewed paper and resources that you can cite in your research papers. You can, of course, also check out a physical book.

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Learn Computer Skills

Many people tend to assume that students have some sort of innate knowledge of computer skills, such as the ability to use MS Word and Excel, even though they have never been taught. If you need to learn computer skills for school or because you know you will later need them to apply for jobs, there is good news! Libraries often offer online databases with videos, posts, and even interactive tutorials that can help individuals learn basic computer skills for things like email, spreadsheets, and word processors. Or they might even offer appointments with a librarian who can offer personalized assistance.

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Access Popular Fiction & YA Books While at College

Many college students are unaware that they are eligible to receive a library card from the city in which their college is located.  You will likely have to demonstrate that you attend the college or have an address in the city.  Usually this means you have to provide photo ID and a piece of mail showing your address (if it differs from that on your ID).  You can show a piece of mail from your university mail box if you live in a dorm.  Some libraries also ask to see your student ID.  You can call ahead or check the library website to make sure you are prepared before you show up. But, once you provide the appropriate materials, you should be able to sign up for a card and check out books just as you would at your hometown library.

You can also visit your college library to see if they have a popular reading section. Not all do–but it’s worth looking!

And, of course, your card from your hometown library, if still active, will allow you to check out e-books and access digital resources while you are away.

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Find Quiet Study Spaces

If you need a quiet space to study, check your local library! Some may have rooms you can use as a single study room for a few hours. Some might just have tables on a floor or in a specific section that are specifically for use by people who need quiet (as opposed to people who need to collaborate and talk).

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Hang Out with Friends and De-Stress

Need a place to hang out for a few hours? The library is a great place to socialize because you don’t need to pay to be there, you get air conditioning, heat, and WiFi–and maybe other perks such as coloring pages or board games. You can just show up to chill for awhile, or you can attend a program with your friends–anything from trivia night to arcade night.

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Unleash Creativity

If you love crafting, but don’t have a lot of experience or don’t want to pay for all the materials to start, you can look for programs at your local library. They typically provide all the materials free. You may also find other opportunities to be creative–poetry contests, open mic nights, photography clubs, and more.

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Gain Volunteer Experience

If you need volunteer experience to graduate, or something to put on your resume, check to see if your local library has any volunteer opportunities currently open.

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Get a Job or Internship

Public libraries will often hire high school students to do work such as shelving, or work with college students who need an internship. Check your local library’s website to see what openings are available and what the qualifications are.

You can also use your library’s physical and digital resources to research careers, craft a resume and cover letter, and learn interviewing tips. Or you might find out that they even periodically host job fairs. Take a look at the library’s website to see what they offer.

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Learn Life Skills

Libraries have books on all types of topics, of course, but library programs are also a wonderful way to get some experience with necessary life skills. Libraries may offer programs on everything from car maintenance to financial literacy to doing laundry! Check your library’s website to see what programs are upcoming.

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Prevent Summer Slide

Research has shown that children who do not read over the summer, and children who do not participate in learning opportunities such as attending camp or going to museums, return to school in the fall having lost many of the academic gains they made during the previous year.  Children who do not read over the summer can lose an average of two months’ of reading skills–and this loss is cumulative. Children from lower income households who have less access to books and to learning activities are particularly vulnerable to summer slide. So how to prevent this? Join the library’s summer reading program to keep students reading and having fun while school is out.

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Access WiFi, Computers, Printers, Copiers, and Scanners

If you do not have internet at home, you can go to the library to access it or you can see if your library offers WiFi hotspots for checkout. Likewise, you can go to the library to use the computer, or see if they offer any laptops, tablets, Chromebooks, etc. for checkout. You can also print, copy, scan, and (probably) fax at the library. Call ahead or check the library website if you need to know if there is a charge for printing and if you will need to bring cash.

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Many people use the public library for school reports or during the summer, to join the Summer Reading Program, and not for much else. But there is so much more to explore! Check out your local library’s website to see what they offer–and how it could benefit you.

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Why I Don’t Like the One-Desk Model in Public Libraries

In the past decade or so, many public libraries seem to have switched to the one-desk model of service. That is, in the past, library patrons might have had to choose whether to go to the circulation desk or the reference desk, depending on their question. The one-desk model consolidates departments, making it the single point of reference for individuals, whether they are asking to update a library card or needing assistance with a complex research question. The idea seems to be that, because the average library patron does not distinguish between departments or the roles of individuals in the library, it is simply easier for them to walk up to a single desk, rather than guess which desk or staff they need–and then be told that they have to walk to some other desk instead. Such an experience would presumably be off-putting to patrons wondering why someone official-looking sitting behind a desk apparently cannot be bothered to help them, and must make them go ask the same question elsewhere. However, even though the one-desk model seems easier for the public, I do not altogether like it–especially they way it seems to have been implemented in some libraries.

To be fair, it did take me awhile to distinguish between the functions of the circulation desk and the reference desk at my public library. I would sometimes be told I was at the wrong desk and had to walk to the other one. Over time, however, I realized that the circulation desk does largely what the name suggests and so does the reference desk.

For those wondering, the circulation desk handles the circulation of items. Check-ins and check-outs happen at the circulation desk. The circulation staff also handle library account inquiries (such as obtaining or updating a card, or paying money on an account) and do circulation stuff that does not necessarily impact the public’s interactions with them–handling the delivery of items, pulling holds, shelving books, shelf-reading, etc.

The reference desk typically handles…reference questions. That could be something as simple as asking for the location of a book, or asking for assistance with in-depth research for an academic project, a genealogy search, and more, or asking for help with the computers or printers. The reference staff are also often the ones in charge of planning programs for adults. The reason why someone at the reference desk might not help a patron with a circulation question (or vice versa) is simple–the staff there might not have been trained on how to answer that question. It is not their job function.

The one-desk model seems like it could be an easy solution to all the walking back and forth of confused patrons. (I had a memorable experience where the circulation desk and the reference desk kept sending me back and forth, both swearing that they had no idea how to help me and that it was the other department’s job. I think I finally just answered my question myself and left.) Just train staff in both departments on how to do both jobs! Or, maybe, staff the one desk with someone from each department at the same time. The reference staff member could sit on the right of the desk and the circulation staff member could sit on the left. However, in practice, I have seen this model fail to work for a key reason: only one person is assigned to staff the desk.

Again, in theory, libraries might just train the reference and circulation departments on how to do each other’s jobs. Problem solved! However, one must really question if this is being done. If you peruse library job listings, reference librarians are often asked to have more qualifications than circulation staff–they might be required to have, at minimum, a Bachelor’s degree, but sometimes an MLIS. Circulation staff might only be required to have a high school diploma. Reference librarians thus presumably in many cases already have more background than circulation staff, if indeed they have a Master’s in Library Science.

Are the circulation staff being asked to do training that is equivalent to the reference librarians’ education? Are they being asked to get any kind of certifications that reference staff without an MLIS might be asked to get? Are they taking the same kind of training–webinars or otherwise? What if someone asks a kind of obscure question about the law or needs help with something like unemployment? Are circulation staff really as knowledgeable as reference staff in answering reference questions when that is neither their background nor their primary job function?

The obvious answer might seem to be that any individual in the circulation department might conceivably be as good as or even better than someone in the reference department. After all, a degree is not everything. Years of experience could factor in, as well as any innate intelligence and general desire to learn. But then the question is–even if someone in the circulation department can do an equal job to the reference department, should circulation staff actually be asked to do the job of reference librarians? Because, since reference librarians often are required to have more experience or education for their roles, their job listings often indicate that they are being paid more than the circulation staff. Consequently, if the circulation staff sitting at the one desk in the one-desk model are doing the work of the reference librarians…shouldn’t they be getting paid at the same rate as the reference librarians?

To me, the one-desk model seems like another instance of job creep; librarians are being asked to take on additional duties without additional pay. In the past, the reference department would have focused on reference questions and the circulation on circulation duties, but now their job functions are being blended. Maybe the public does not know the difference. Maybe anyone official-looking sitting behind a desk is the same as another to them. But library staff in different departments do have different backgrounds, different training, and different job functions. That may or may not come across in how effectively any one individual is able to answer a question that is not technically part of their job description. And maybe patrons and administrators are willing to let little bits of customer service slip in order to get the bigger gain of a one-stop shopping experience. But I think we should seriously consider if asking staff to take on more job functions should result in a pay increase–especially if staff who are lower on the pay scale are now effectively functioning the same way as staff who are higher up on that scale.

What do you think? Do you like the one-desk model at the public library?

We Need to Stop Assuming That “Everyone Knows” about the Public Library

In the past, book blogger posts about public libraries seemed to be more common, and they would get plenty of comments from other enthusiastic library users. Recently, however, I have seen a bit of a troubling trend–the idea that no one needs to talk about or talk up libraries because “everyone already knows about libraries.” Sometimes, this truism is shown to be obviously false, such as that incident in which Forbes published an article claiming that library services are obsolete and taxpayers should fund Amazon instead. Clearly, even educated individuals do not always understand all that libraries offer and the unique way they work to provide equal access to information and materials. And sometimes, even avid library users do not always know everything that is available to them.

I use the library all the time, and I am still finding new services and resources. Often, I am able to pass on this information to friends, family, and coworkers–some of whom never visit the library for the simple reason that it never occurred to them. Other times, however, the people I talk to already do use the library, even frequently, but they still had never heard of some of the services available. There is always something more to learn!

Below are just a few examples from my personal life and from my internet browsing that demonstrate that knowledge of the public library is not exactly common for everyone. Some people never go into the library because they are wealthy and well-connected enough that they do not need to. Some people do not use the library because their family never did, and they don’t know how it works–and they might be too scared to ask, or they might assume there are barriers such as membership fees. Some people do use the library, but not to its full extent. For instance:

Personal Examples

  • A friend of mine lived in a city her entire life and had no clue there was a public library in that city.
  • A friend regularly used the library and read e-books, but did not know the library offered e-books to borrow until I mentioned it.
  • Family members without internet did not know that the library offers WiFi hotspots.
  • Family members keep offering me advice on how to find cheap DVDs, even though they could get completely free movies from the library. Some of them frequent the library already.
  • A friend told me she asked the members of her book club how many used the library–none of them do.
  • A teacher friend admitted that she had no idea what the library could even offer her or her class. I’m pretty certain she does not hold a library card.
  • Another teacher friend who uses the library all the time to find materials for her classroom was unaware that students can access tutoring at the public library.
  • A friend who goes to the library did not know she could join the Summer Reading Program as an adult.
  • Several people have asked me how much it costs to check out books at the library.
  • A friend’s coworker was talking about the difficulty of finding movies during the pandemic–she did not know that the public library offers physical DVDs and streaming.
  • At least two people have asked me if they needed a membership card just to walk in the library door.

Other Examples

  • Academic librarians on Twitter have complained that their faculty think the library is obsolete because “everything is on the Internet”–even though the faculty use digital resources available to them on the internet only because the library pays a subscription for those databases.
  • Writers of major U.S. periodicals have divulged that they only recently learned about library resources.
  • Individuals in publishing periodically spread misinformation (inadvertently) on Twitter about libraries and they way they work (presumably because, even though they are book lovers, they do not use libraries).
  • College-aged book bloggers sometimes think they can only use their college library and not the public library if they attend school away from home.

As you can see, knowledge about library services and how they work is not always common knowledge. Even people who are highly educated, who use library services already, and who are book lovers or who are involved in literary circles do not always know everything about the library. So when we stop talking about the library because we think it is overdone or not necessary, some people miss out. They never hear what they need to know–that they will not be asked to pay money to join, that they can find services of use even if they do not like to read, that the public library is still relevant to them personally.

What You Can Do

Talk about the library! Hype it up! Post about it! Tweet about it! Take Bookstagram photos of library books and announce proudly that they are from the library! Some ideas:

  • Write about your favorite library memories.
  • Write about your favorite library resources.
  • Share your secret library tips.
  • Post photos of any library swag you have.
  • Share your library holds list (a spin on the popular TBR list post).
  • Write a book haul post featuring library books or books from the library book sale.
  • Tweet about a library service you have used lately (ex. Libby/Overdrive, Hoopla, Kanopy, Ancestry, etc.)
  • Share photos of your library books or crafts you have made at the library.
  • Share tours of libraries you visit.
  • Introduce your friends and family members to relevant library resources.
  • Invite a friend to go to the library or a library program with you.

Libraries in the U.S. are always being threatened with reduced funding because so many people erroneously believe that public libraries no longer matter. Often, however, people just do not know what libraries offer! So let’s keep talking about libraries. There’s always something new to learn and celebrate.

How Libraries Support Authors

How Libraries Support Authors

Public libraries have received a lot of negative publicity in recent years from publishers claiming that they hurt authors. Libraries, admittedly, have not collected much data on all the work they do and all the ways that work–from hosting author visits to providing free social media marketing–can support authors. The reality is, however, that libraries actually do perform a lot of work that promotes authors and their works. All that remains is for them to quantify it! In the meantime, however, here are some ways that libraries support authors.

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Book Purchases

Once authors earn out their advance, they earn royalties from book sales. That includes sales to libraries! And libraries play an important role in supporting midlist authors. While some booksellers might focus on stocking bestsellers, libraries often buy books that receive less marketing attention from publishers. Libraries also purchase books individuals might not readily buy: academic works, expensive nonfiction titles (such as those used for school reports), lengthy manga series individuals might balk at purchasing because they read the books so fast, and paperback romances that many people prefer to buy used because they read these books so fast. Little data seems to exist on how much libraries purchase and if they might conceivably be thought of as an exciting, unique market for publishers to engage with. But the fact remains: libraries buy books and they buy books the general public might not have been aware of or that the general public might not spend their book buying budget on.

Also read: Should U.S. Libraries Pay Royalties Per Checkout?

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Though many argue that libraries hurt authors by buying books and then lending them out, this argument assumes that library users are not also book buyers. But the Panorama Project’s Immersive Media & Books 2020 Consumer Survey found that the library can be an important way for book buyers to discover titles:

“35.9% of respondents bought a book online that they first found in a library, and this percentage is higher for avid book engagers (those who engage with 4+ books per month). 51.6% of avid book engagers bought a book online that they first found in a library. Library discovery is also leading to book purchases in brick-and-mortar bookstores: 31.1% bought a book in a bookstore that they first found in a library—44% for avid book engagers.”

-Panorama Project

Libraries provide free exposure to books through a variety of means: book clubs, displays, programs such as book parties or author visits, librarian recommendations, and (of course) their shelves–browsing for books is still a vital means of discovery for book lovers!

And, again, the exposure libraries give to midlist authors should not be under-valued. A Publisher’s Weekly article form 2019 indicates that bestsellers are now making up most of publishers’ sales and that publishers consequently put most of their marketing power behind those bestsellers.  Readers may only hear of some midlist books if they see them at the library.

Libraries exist in a complex ecosystem along with other means of acquiring books; often booksellers and libraries can end up mutually supporting each other, and do not need to see themselves as at odds.

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Free Marketing

Libraries do a lot of marketing for authors, though they may not get recognition for it. Some of that marketing, of course, comes from book displays or librarians talking up a book to a patron they think would particularly enjoy it. But libraries also do a lot of marketing through more modern channels. They might post book talks on YouTube; hype new releases on social media; host podcasts highlighting books; run blogs with book recommendations; or send out newsletters to their patrons, advertising their latest purchases. Some libraries even host author festivals where authors can sell their books directly to fans. All of this marketing is done by libraries free, or sometimes even at cost–libraries usually pay authors to make appearances and give talks.

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Local Author Collections

Libraries can also provide important exposure for self-published local authors. Many have local author collections where a writer can submit their work, and many will host events highlighting local authors and their books. It can be difficult doing one’s own marketing for a book, but libraries are often happy to partner with authors.

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The Creation of Life-Long Readers

Libraries create life-long readers by providing easy, free access to a multitude of books in a space where judgment about one’s reading habits is reserved and librarians work hard to create happy memories around books. Life-long readers typically do not only use the library; the Panorama Project’s Immersive Media & Books 2020 Consumer Survey indicates that readers engage with books in a variety of ways. That is, library users also purchase books. So anything that creates more readers, and more avid readers, is a good thing for authors!

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Libraries are not the enemies of authors. Some publishers tend to suggest that libraries are the primary reason authors do not earn as much as they might (though one would think that the publisher has some control over author salaries, too). In reality, however, the book market is very complex. There are various factors at play: the rise of Amazon and its shady pricing tactics, the used book market, the ability for self-published authors to sell their books more easily, and the ease with which individuals can now pirate books. The library is just one part of that market, but all parts must be considered when publishers analyze their profits reports.

Since libraries do play such a vital role in exposing readers to new titles, and because they do pay for their books, it seems unlikely that they are the main reason authors are not making money. Indeed, recent data suggests that avid readers engage with books in multiple ways, and that those who use the library also buy books. Creating more readers (as the library does) increases the number of people who will buy books. Libraries should thus be seen as an important way for authors to gain exposure and more readers.

Our Most Popular Library-Related Posts

We love libraries here at Pages Unbound! Check out a sampling of some of our most popular library-related posts from over the years.

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General Discussion Posts

Changes from the Pandemic

Library Services

Support Your Library

Why Your Local Library Weeds Books from the Collection

April 3-9 is National Library Week! We’re celebrating all week long with library-related posts. Today we explore an ever contentious topic: the practice of libraries periodically removing books from their collections (a process called “weeding.”) The Twittersphere gets outraged over this practice every few months, decrying libraries as monsters who destroy the Sacred Books instead of storing them indefinitely. The anger is so intense that library twitter has reported the need for clandestine book weeding and disposal, so the public does not unleash their wrath upon hapless staff members. However, weeding books is actually a library best practice, one that every library engages in, and one that has good reasons behind it. Here is why your local librarians weed certain books out of the collection.

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The Book Contains Outdated or Inaccurate Information

Non-fiction books need to be weeded regularly because information changes. Health advice from a few decades back could actually be harmful if followed, so librarians are not going to leave outdated texts on the shelves for unsuspecting individuals to consume. But this idea applies to other nonfiction books, too. Would you want to read a book about how to use computers from ten years ago? What about a book on social media marketing from even five years ago? How about a travel book that has not been updated with new locations and information? An SAT prep book that has information on test questions that are no longer used or a format that has changed? It is crucial for nonfiction to be up-to-date, or it is not useful. Some books just have limited lifespans, and so they need to be weeded. But non-fiction titles relevant to the community’s needs will likely be replaced by newer versions; they have not just disappeared forever!

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The Book Is in Poor Condition

Moldy or mildewed books will spread their mold to other volumes in the collection, and ruin them, as well. There is no way to save a moldy book, and any such book has to be thrown in the garbage. That’s true even for private individuals who have mold on their books.

However, books might just be in general poor condition–they could be dirty, torn, bent, and even odorous. Most people probably are not going to want to check out a book that looks like it has been thrown in a mud puddle and run over by a truck, so there is little reason to keep it on the shelf. But rest assured–if the book is popular, staff will probably replace the damaged, weeded book with a nice, new copy.

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There Are Too Many Copies of the Book

Libraries often buy several (or many) copies of books that are projected to be bestsellers or that have many holds on them (in an effort to keep the wait time for a book somewhat reasonable). Eventually, however, all 20 copies of that book will stop circulating and they will congregate on the shelf. In this case, staff will usually weed the bulk of the copies, but perhaps leave one or more if there is still interest to justify that.

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The Book Has Stopped Circulating

The reality is that not every book circulates. Some books might have been popular years ago, but their time has passed. Or a book might not have ever been checked out at all. Library policies usually specify that if a book has not circulated in a certain time frame, it should be weeded to make room for books that the community is interested in and will use.

This is the type of weeding that seems to rile the passions of book lovers the most. Many people seem to see weeding as libraries desecrating the very books they are meant to honor and preserve. However, there are a couple of factors at play here. One is that public libraries serve a specific function: to provide materials of relevance to their community. They do not serve as archives or specialized libraries or academic libraries–other places may likely keep the niche, specialized types of works that people are not looking for or checking out at the public library. The other factor is space. The building is only so big. Libraries literally cannot keep every book they ever bought, because there is nowhere to put them all. The most judicious use of their funds and space, then, is to keep the materials people are actually using.

The public should also be aware that most libraries do not weed solely on circulation stats alone. Most libraries have policies that explain how weeding should be done. These policies often clarify that books that fill a gap in the collection should be kept, even if they are not circulating. In other words, staff will likely keep a book if it is the only book on a certain topic currently in the collection, or if it is difficult to find a lot of new books to purchase that fill a need in the collection (for instance, holiday books that are not about Christmas, fiction books featuring protagonists from diverse backgrounds, etc.). Good weeding is not done indiscriminately, but with an eye on the needs of the community.

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What Libraries Do with Weeded Books

Contrary to popular belief, most libraries do not just throw weeded books into the trash can, but instead find ways to pass them on so others can read them. Here are just a few ways libraries might try to keep weeded books being read:

  • Selling them at their book sale to raise funds for the library (and to buy more books!)
  • Sending them to Better World Books (a business that says that they may then generate funds for the library while also passing on profits to literacy initiatives)
  • Stocking Little Free Libraries
  • Donating them to schools, day cares, & other partnerships

Books may have to be recycled or thrown away as a last resort. However, libraries do truly try to keep books in the hands of readers whenever possible!

Library Secrets Even Avid Library Users Often Don’t Know

Library Secrets Even Avid Library Users Don't Know

April 3-9 is National Library Week in 2022! We’ll be celebrating all week long with library-related posts. Today we focus on some services that even regularly library patrons may not be aware of, but could benefit from. Leave your secret library tips in the comments below.

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State residents may be eligible for a state library card.

Many states in the U.S. have one library where every resident of the state can apply for an online card and get access to digital materials (or physical, if you live close enough). So if you are not satisfied with your local collection, see what other options are available to you.

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College students can sign up for a public library card in the location where they attend school.

College students often mistakenly believe that they can only use their hometown library. Public libraries, however, typically allow college students to apply for a card, even if it is only a temporary or student one. Usually showing up to the library with photo ID and a piece of official mail with the student’s college mailing address is all that is needed to obtain a card.

Also read: How to Access YA Books While at College

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Interlibrary loan allows U.S. library users can request books from across the country.

If you don’t like the collection your library has, ask about how to request a book through ILL (interlibrary loan). Most libraries in the U.S. offer this service where they can have books from all over the country mailed to your local library for checkout.

Learn more about how interlibrary loans work.

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Library users can suggest books for the library to purchase.

If you do not see the title you want available at your library, submit a purchase request and see if they will buy a copy for you. Libraries do have collection policies (which usually say something about buying up-to-date and credible materials) so they may not buy everything suggested–but most try to.

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Library users can place a book on hold before it is available on the shelf.

Want to be among the first to get that new release? Search the online catalog for the title before the release date. If it pops up, but has a tag such as, “On order,” or, “Being cataloged,” that means the book is coming soon–and you can place a hold on it now! Alternatively, if you want a new release, but do not see it in the catalog at all, you can try suggesting it as a purchase (see above). Libraries will often automatically put any book you suggested for purchase on hold for you.

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The information you are searching for might be available through an online database.

If you have not scrolled through your library’s website recently, check out their online database offerings. This is where you can find things like access to newspapers, family genealogy resources, standardized test prep (for tests like the SAT or ACT, but also for career tests), tutorials on how to use Microsoft Office, college scholarship information, academic databases for homework assignments, help passing the U.S. citizenship test, even potentially online tutoring or homework help. Just take a look one day. What you find might surprise you.

Also read: 10 Digital Resources from the Public Library You Should Know

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The public can attend library board meetings–or access the board minutes online.

Interested in how much your library is spending? Want to know if the staff got a cost of living raise this year? Thinking about offering suggestions on how the library can improve? Check your library’s website to see when the next board meeting is, and then show up! There is generally a public comment period where you can offer feedback, if you want. Or, if you do not have the ability to show up in person, keep informed by checking your library’s website for the board meeting minutes.

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How to Support Your Local Librarians

How to Support Your Local Librarians

April 3-9 is National Library Week for 2022! If you love your library, now is a great time to consider whether you have ever expressed your appreciation or offered support to the staff who keep your library running. Below are a few ways to offer support, listed (generally) in order from the least amount effort required to more effort required. As you can see, supporting your local library staff need not be difficult at all!

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Follow the Rules

This is an easy one! Simply follow any posted rules, and try not to make a big fuss about it. The front line staff likely did not make these rules–the administration, the library board, or even state law might be responsible for library policies and procedures. But it’s still the staff on the floor who have to deal with any disturbances caused by rule breakers, or explain library policy to patrons who do not agree with it or who want to vent about how their old library had different rules. And they probably do not enjoy this any more than you do.

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Stop Reshelving Your Books–Even if You Know Where They Go

Many people think that reshelving books is helpful to staff, and so they may ignore the signs asking for books to be placed on a cart for reshelving. However, staff actually scan these books to be counted as statistics for something called “in-house use.” Basically, they are keeping track of how many books were viewed in the building, but not checked out. Statistics help libraries improve their services and advocate for more funding, so be sure to place any books you looked at on the appropriate cart so that the library can have a more accurate count.

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Be Kind

Another easy one! Be nice to your librarians! Yes, they are there to help, but that does not mean that they are there to be walked all over. I have seen library staff snapped at like dogs by people who do not want to bother getting out of a chair. I have seen library staff sassed at by people who seem to think it’s staff’s fault that they did not read the directions posted on the printer, or that they forgot their password, or that a website is not working. I have seen staffed yelled at when a machine is broken, or when a patron is told that printing costs a nominal fee, or when a patron learns that their account has a fine on it. And staff just have to stand there and smile because they are in a public-facing customer service job. So what can we do to counteract all the negativity? Just be kind! Say hello, be polite, walk over to the desk if you need help (instead of whistling or snapping or whatever it is people think is an appropriate way to get someone’s attention), and then thank the librarian for any help received.

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Send a Note

It’s always sweet to see libraries post the notes of appreciation they receive in books or at the desk. And clearly they these notes are so appreciated by staff that they want to share! So why not send a little thank-you to the librarians who keep your library running smoothly?

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Leave a Review or Comment

Leaving a review or a comment form takes a little more time, but can make a big impact. Often these reviews and forms will be seen or passed on to management or administration, so they can really be a boost to a staff member who needs it. Leave a generally positive review if you can, or feel free to name drop some of the staff you find extra spectacular–and be sure to say why!

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Make a Donation

Libraries in the U.S. always seem to be struggling financially, so, if you are able, why not make a monetary donation? It need not be large! Lots of small donations can help. Alternatively, you can check to see if your library accepts book donations. Some books may find their way into the collection, but most will probably be sold to raise funds for the library.

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Attend a Library Board Meeting

This action takes more time commitment and investment, but can be really illuminating! The library board is in charge of things like library finances, so attending a meeting can help the public be more aware of how the library is managing funds. Public comment is also allowed, so you can make suggestions, offer (or decline) support for a new initiative, ask what your library is doing to support diversity and equity, or simply make it known that you support library staff. Many front line staff have struggled through the pandemic since they have had to work with the public at at time when they may not feel safe doing so. And many library staff are not paid as much as you may think. So if you really care about your staff, tell the library board that you care–and you could even suggest that they provide more support to staff.

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Advocate for More Local Funding

Many people assume that the federal government in the U.S. provides money to public libraries, but libraries are actually usually supported by a combination of state and local taxes. Writing to local representatives in support of libraries and turning out to vote in local elections for candidates who support libraries will likely have the largest impact on library funding. Of course, however, funding libraries sometimes might mean paying more in taxes. Communities will have to decide how much they are willing to invest in better libraries.

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Recent Misconceptions about Public Libraries and Their Services–Debunked

Recent Library Misconceptions Debunked

Most people seem to love the library! And that’s wonderful! Sometimes, however, information on the internet can be misleading, incomplete, or inaccurate. Below are a few misconceptions about libraries and the work they do–debunked!

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Library vending machines do not need librarians.

Book Riot recently featured an article discussing the rise of automated library vending machines in response to the pandemic. The article notes that these vending machines are attractive to libraries with small budgets because they cost less than building and staffing librarians. It ends by darkly hinting that the rise of these machines could mean future libraries without librarians.

However, people should be aware that library vending machines still need librarians to stock them, and to pick up any returned items. Adding library vending machines probably means adding to staff’s work load by requiring them to drive around the local area maintaining these machines. It’s a discussion that should be had, as we consider job creep, and how library staff are routinely asked to take on more tasks without more pay.

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Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library must not be all that great because it asks for community partners to pay for books.

Dolly Parton’s Imagination is known fondly in the U.S. for mailing free books to children under the age of five. What many people do not realize is that Dolly herself is not personally funding every single book. Rather, the organization asks for community partners to pay for the cost of the books (often these community partners include public libraries). The organization then handles administrative matters. Sometimes, when people learn this, they feel betrayed and try to suggest that the program is some sort of scam. But what the Imagination Library does is all very clearly explained on their website:

The Imagination Library provides the infrastructure of the core program including managing the secure central database for the Book Order System and coordinating book selections and wholesale purchasing. It also incurs the cost of the program’s administrative expenses and coordinates the monthly mailings.

Imagination Library

That is, the Imagination Library does most of the heavy lifting by having experts decide on age-appropriate books. They also handle tasks such as managing the information databases, and buying, packaging, and mailing out books. The community partner(s) just have to pay for the books and send along the names and addresses of registered children.

That’s not to say that the cost of the program is not an issue. I spoke to someone who knows someone who helped set up an Imagination Library partnership, and she said that it took awhile because the Imagination Library wanted several years’ worth of payment up front. All together, that’s a lot of money! However, per book, it’s not. The Imagination Library likely cuts down on the cost per book by purchasing wholesale (see above) from their dedicated publishing partners.

So, in the end, if a person can find enough local organizations willing to raise funds for the Imagination Library, it’s a win. The community gets cheap books mailed to them and all they have to do is find the money and let the Imagination Library do the rest.

So, really, this misconception is a double one. First, people should know that if their local library partners with the Imagination Library, the public library is probably footing part of the bill and should receive some credit for that. Two, people should know that the public library footing part of the bill is not part of some nefarious plot. The Imagination Library is very transparent about what services they provide and what community partners are expected to provide, and that information is all available on their website.

What misconceptions about the public library have you seen?

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Are Libraries Essential Services? The Answer May Be Complicated.

Are Libraries Essential?

When the lockdowns started in the United States in March 2020, many public libraries resisted closing. States were advising that “essential services” should remain open, and library administrators were eager to advertise that what libraries do is absolutely essential. After all, if libraries closed, indicating that they are not essential, that would surely give policymakers yet another excuse to cut already low and diminishing budgets. Staff lives might be lost in the effort to stay open during a global pandemic, but librarians are here to help, right? At least–that is the messaging some library administrators seemed to be saying.

Most Americans would probably agree that libraries are absolutely important community resources. They promote equal access to knowledge and information. They provide internet and computer access to those without. They provide spaces where people can gather for long periods of time, with no expectation of payment in return, leading many to use the library as a safe space to stay warm, cool, or dry. Librarians help people every day by pointing to credible resources, helping with computer and website navigation, and answering reference questions. But does all this mean that libraries had to stay open during a global pandemic?

Libraries can be “essential” in some ways, but not in others. The directive for essential services to remain open seems to have been meant to include services that are necessary to supporting life or keeping society running relatively smoothly. That is, for example, grocery stores and food kitchens should remain open so people can eat, power plants should continue operating so people have heat and electricity, medical offices should stay open so people do not die, city workers should keep maintaining the roads so people can travel to necessary appointments or jobs, and so on. What libraries do is, again, important. And closing to the public is certainly an inconvenience, at the very least. But closing the building to the public for a few weeks or months is unlikely to endanger anyone’s life or physical well-being. In contrast, opening so large crowds can gather inside and spread a deadly airborne virus probably would endanger lives–and not just staff’s lives.

Accepting that public libraries may have to close to the public in order to protect the community is not saying that the work libraries do does not matter. The public library does matter, very much. The person filling out unemployment forms, or looking for a new job, or studying for school certainly values the library. But there should be a distinction here between “essential to maintaining life” and “important to the community.”

But what of those services that libraries and their supporters love to brag about? The fact that they might provide free lunches to kids during the summer? Or have one of those boxes with canned goods for people experiencing homelessness? The fact that people go there to stay warm in the winter and cool in the summer? These services are actually services that other community organizations already provide, or should be providing. The library is not the only place in town for one to get a free meal–and if it is, that is a problem. Nor is the library the only warming station available. Nor is it meant to act as a homeless shelter in lieu of actual homeless shelters. Many of the life-sustaining activities the library participates in are actually partnerships with other organizations that will continue, just in other places, even if the library must close to the public. These services are essential–but they are not the library’s primary role.

And what of the rest? What about providing internet access and readers’ advisory and books and movies? The stuff about providing equal access that is the public library’s role? Most libraries managed to pivot during the pandemic and offer these services safely through other means, when their buildings were closed. Some libraries bought and distributed additional WiFi hotspots, as well as laptops or Chromebooks. Most started reminding people that their WiFi reaches outside to the parking lot. Some set up laptop stations outside. Most offered some version of curbside pickup, as well as reference services via phone. Their services changed, but they remained. People just had to be willing to pivot along with the libraries.

Closing the libraries during a global pandemic does not mean that their services are not essential to a great many people. They are! But there is a distinction to be made here between the types of buildings that had to remain open for people to survive, and the kinds of buildings that are important but perhaps not in the same way. Using the word “essential” to describe the places that should remain in operation perhaps unfairly made some places feel like they were being told they are not valuable, when that is not the case. This in turn pressured libraries to remain open–thereby endangering not only staff members but also other members of the public.

So are libraries essential? Well, yes. But not quite in the way many administrators wanted to say they are.