“One of the more powerful research tools you can have is a library card.
A library card is instant access to a world of resources. Both offline AND online.
That might surprise you, but here are 5 reasons why you want a library card to be a great researcher.
- Access to online paywall content. My local library gives paywall access to Ancestry.com, Morningstar, online journals, and more. It also provides Hoopla video (https://www.hoopladigital.com/ for downloads, and many free music downloads (lots of popular music, some of which really surprised me—this is free? Yes!). It also provides many different database services: a small listing includes, Academic Onefile (journals, magazines, books, audio – great subject browser), InfoTrac (news and periodical.Updated daily.) Can filter by type, sort by date. General One File and MasterFile Complete (EBSCO). Many libraries have all this, and more.
- eBooks. Yes, just like physical books, many libraries support borrowing ebooks and e-magazines, typically with time restrictions on how long you can keep them, and sometimes twitchy software, but free’s free—I’ve read many books that I knew I only wanted for a short time.
- Local archives. Many libraries have archival content that’s never going to make it online (at least in our lifetimes). If you’re doing research on a particular location, visiting physically is often the best thing to do. But if you can’t get there, checking out the online library can often lead to content that you won’t be able to find via search engines. (Go figure. For some reason, many local libraries have put great content online, but then set it up so the search engines can’t index it, making it effectively offline. On the other hand, if you connect via the library, you can often browse that content.)
- Classes. I teach at libraries. So do lots of other people with great skills. Local libraries are especially good on local history, genealogy classes, general internet skill tutorials, and basic computer skills (such as the common applications). Sometimes libraries put these classes (at least the lecture parts) up on YouTube.
- Reference Librarians. They’re excellent resources of information and a source of research skills. When you go to your public library, be sure to chat with the reference librarians. They are, in essence, professional SearchReseachers. They know all kinds of things that are key to finding information (both online and offline) in places and in ways you might not have thought about. (Better yet: Many of them are available via IMs and email. Remember the superb “Ask-A-Librarian” service is always available. They might take a day to get back to you, but they’re very, very good.)
How to get a library card: In North America it’s easy–just go there and fill out a simple application form. Generally, they want you to be somewhat local, but that’s not always the case. (I have a Los Angeles County library card because I used to live in LA County–that was good enough.) I make it a habit to check out the libraries at different places I visit because you never know what’s possible or what they have. Libraries are very different from each other. When you visit, ask to see their list of online resources, and if you can get a card that will allow remote access. You’ll be surprised how often they’ll say yes.
College and University library cards. Note that college or university library cards often come with even deeper research databases than public libraries. Alumni can often get a library card that will allow access to their paywall access databases. I have a couple of these (from different places where I’ve attended or taught.) If you can get one, get it. Check out the alumni web pages at your university or college. Again, the libraries vary tremendously. See what your college offers.
Virtual library card: You can get a “virtual library card” from a number of places. The Internet Archive has one that seems to be accepted at a surprising number of places. But a quick search for [ "virtual library card" ] will show you a number of real libraries that hand out virtual cards to anyone who applies. With these virtual cards, you will have access to a large number of resources, including most of those listed above.
(And if you have great research experiences with your local library, write in and let us know. I’m especially interested in the online library card experiences of people not in the US!)
Search on, with your library card! ”