Library Skills for Writers

Guest Post by Joan Whetzel

When was the last time you ventured into your local public library? They aren't just buildings full bookshelves stacked floor to ceiling with books, a periodicals section, and a reference section. There's plenty more worth investigating at the library these days. Libraries are constantly looking for ways to update what they have to offer. Besides the books, these institutions also offer DVDs, VHS tapes, audio books, audio cassettes, music CDs, music scores, and even jigsaw puzzles. Computers are now available for use by those who don't have computers or internet service at home. Many even offer WiFi. Other services include: author readings, homework help, English or Spanish as a second language classes, toddler story time, computer classes, and a calendar full of activities. Have questions? No problem, just contact your library by phone, email of online messaging.

Library Cards

For anyone looking to use their local library, library cards are free. All that is required - depending on the library - is a driver's license, an ID, or a utility bill to show proof of residence. Then fill out the form, and the librarian hands you a library card on the spot. But you don't have to do it in person any more. Fill out the library card application online, and within days, your card arrives in the mail.

Library cards allow users to check out just about everything - except, of course, items held in the reference section or any special collections. Generally, books can be checked out for about 2 weeks, while CDs, video tapes, audio books and DVDs are checked out for 1 week. While there's still a limit to the number of items that can be checked out, the limit is much higher than when I was growing up in the 60s and 70s. My local library, for instance, allows up to 75 books to be checked out at one time; not that I could read 75 books in 2 weeks time. But if I wanted to, I could check out that many.

Library cards also allow you to place on holds (online) on items that are offered by the library, reserve time on one of the library computers, and make use of the library's online resources. But even without a card, anyone can

•    sit in the library and read the books, periodicals or anything held in the reference or special collections sections.
•    use the Ask a Librarian tab on the Library's website.
•    attend any of the events or classes offered by the Library.
•    get homework help.
•    make use of the WiFi.

Visitors and non-residents can buy a library card for a minimal fee, usually less than $10 up front, with smaller annual renewal fees. Lost Library cards are can be replaced for a fee of around one dollar. If your library card gets stolen - along with your purse or wallet - card holders are urged to notify the library immediately so the card can be cancelled. Most libraries will hold the owner of the library card responsible for any items checked out on the card by the person who stole that card. (The cost of replacing books, DVDs, CDs, videos etcetera can get quite expensive).

Card Catalog

Card catalogs have been digital for at least the last 15 to 20 years now. If you still haven't figures out how to use this new digital version, either in the library or online, then simply ask a librarian to show you the ropes. Or take a tech savvy friend or relative with you. By the way, the card catalog available online is the same catalog available inside the library.

The card catalog allows users to search for books (and all other library holdings) using the same parameters as the old card catalogs. The card catalog shows how many of each item each library in the library system has, how many are on the shelves available for check-out, how many are currently checked-out, and when checked-out items are due to be returned. In addition to searching the catalog, users can place a hold on books and other items (CDs, DVDs, etc.), submit requests for interlibrary loans, and even purchase items that the library has for sale. Use the mouse to point and click on a specific entry to learn more about that item.

How to Place a Hold

To place a book on hold, first look it up in the card catalog. click on that item to find out how many copies are available at you branch or any other branch of the library system. Click on the "hold" icon, tab or button. The librarian will pull the item from the shelf, and hold it for up to a week. For items only available at other branches within the library system, it will take a day or two for the item to be delivered to your branch, where it will be held under your name. The library notifies the card holder by email when the hold is available, or check the status of the item online.

There is a limit to the number of books or other items that may be held in reserve, so check with your library to find out the limit. If the item you want is currently checked out, you will be placed on a waiting list for that item. Reference books, special collections, microfilm or microfiche items cannot be placed on hold or sent to another branch on interlibrary loans. If you really need to use these items, you will have to go to the branch that owns them.

The Dewey Decimal Classification

The old version of the Dewey Decimal System was an alpha-numeric system. Over the last century, it has gone through multiple versions. The current version of the Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) is a totally decimal numbering system. This makes it easier to organize the online card catalogs, re-shelf books, and locate books once on the shelf. However, it does allow for the addition of letters to the numbering system so that individual libraries can customize it to their needs. Fiction books are still permitted to use letters to organize and shelf books by author's last name, since most people are accustomed to looking for fiction books by their favorite authors' last name.

Generally speaking, the DDC numbering consists of a 3 digit number before the decimal and multiple numbers following the decimal. The first three numbers reflect the general areas, or genres, where the item is shelved. The decimals break down the numbering system further to reflect smaller subject subdivisions. For instance, history will be broken into State, US, and World history. US history will be further broken down into Early American history, the revolutionary period, slavery, black history, the Civil War period, World War I, WW II, and recent history. Each subdivisions within a genre adds more numbers behind the decimal, to further refine the placement of books on the shelves. The classes, or genres, for shelving books and other items are:

•    000 - Computer Science, Information, General Works
•    100 - Philosophy and Psychology
•    200 - Religion
•    300 - Social Sciences
•    400 - Language
•    500 - Sciences and Mathematics
•    600 - Technology and Applied Science
•    700 - Arts and Recreation
•    800 - Literature
•    900 - History and Geography

Classes and Events

The classes and other events held at a library are usually posted on a bulletin board in the lobby or inside the library. They are also posted online in the library's calendar of events. The classes and events include programs for children, teens and adults as well as language programs (i.e. English, Spanish), toddler's story time, authors' readings and any anything else that are of local interest or that are popular among the library's users.

Reference Section

All libraries have a reference section full of books and other bound items intended for use inside the library only. These items are not available for check-out or for inter-library loan. The items in the reference section are usually multi-volume sets (encyclopedias) or massive volumes (major dictionaries and atlases), and are usually too large to loan out and too expensive to replace. The reference section in most any library will include:

•    Dictionaries (e.g. The American Heritage college dictionary, The Random House dictionary of the English language, Webster's dictionary of English usage)
•    Encyclopedias (e.g. Encyclopedia Americana, Encyclopaedia Britannica, HispaƂnica, World Book)
•    Almanacs
•    Atlases
•    Bibliographies
•    Directories
•    Handbooks
•    Yearbooks and Statistical Sources (e.g. The Statesman's year-book, Statistical abstract of the United States, Statistical abstract of the world, The World almanac and book of facts)
•    Biographical Sources (e.g. Biography index, Command, a historical dictionary of military leaders, Current biography, Who's who among Hispanic Americans, Who's who in U.S. writers, editors & poets, The Who's who of Nobel Prize winners)
•    Quotation sources (e.g. American heritage dictionary of American quotations, Familiar quotations: a collection of passages, phrases, and proverbs traced to their sources in ancient and modern literature, The Oxford dictionary of quotations)
•    Science and Technology Sources (e.g. American Heritage science dictionary, Dictionary of science and technology, The history of science and technology: a browser's guide to the great discoveries, inventions, and the people who made them, from the dawn of time to today, Van Nostrand's scientific encyclopedia)

Reading Books Online

Many libraries now have books online now. So you don't have to physically go to the library to read some material. As long as you have a library card, you can "check out" the library's online reading materials for the same amount of time as you would check out a physical book. You can even print the pages you need right from our home computer.

Locate your local library on the internet, then navigate through their website for available library services, "Ask a Librarian" resources, branch location and hours, contact information, card catalog, the library's databases, "Friends of the Library" services and events, meeting and study room policies, use of public computers, general library policies, special events, events calendar, the "What's New" section, and WiFi availability. If you don't already have a library card, then by all means avail yourself of this awesome - and free - resource. It's worth every tax dollar spent on keeping this wonderful institution relevant, modern and usable.

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widdershins said...

I love my Library!

Karen Cioffi said...

Widder, I love mine also. I can get lost in it!