Using the library

Why is it important to know how to use a library?

Sometimes you need to find an answer to a question. Other times you need to research a topic for a school report. Sometimes you want to find CD's to listen to or videos to watch. Sometimes you want to find a book to read for enjoyment. A library is the best place to do all of these things. A library is rich storehouse of information. Knowing how to use the library is a skill that will help you throughout your life.

Librarians are there to help you.  Librarians are customer service people. Their job is to help you find the information you need. Librarians know the library can be a confusing place. They want to answer your questions. Always ask a librarian for help if you are confused or cannot find something.

Finding books in the library-- Let’s say you have a paper due in your history class. Your teacher has asked you to write about a famous American leader. You have decided to write your paper about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. How will you find the books you need?

Using the card catalog-- To find books, you will need to use the card catalog.   The card catalog lists all the items in the library (including books, CDs and videos). Card catalogs are either electronic (on a computer ) or print (on cards in file drawers). Some libraries have both kinds. To use the print card catalog, you should begin with the subject listings. This is the part of the card catalog that lists books by subject, or what the book is about. First, you would look under King, Martin Luther, Jr. This is because people are listed in the card catalog by their last names. Titles like Dr. are not included on catalog cards. Each card with the heading King, Martin Luther, Jr. will describe a book on your subject. The description on the card will tell you what the book is about, the name of the author, the date it was published, and the publisher. It will also tell you the call number. The call number is what you will need to find the book on the shelf.  Make sure to write down the call numberof every book about Dr. King that looks interesting to you.

If your library has an electronic card catalog, you would look there for books on Dr. King. Most electronic card catalogs allow you to search by subject like in the print card catalog. All electronic card catalogs are a little different.  Instructions on how to use the system often appear on the computer screen or are posted somewhere near the computer. If you are unsure about how to use the system, just ask the librarian to show you.

When you search by subject in the electronic card catalog, you will find a list of books about Dr. King. Each book will have its own entry on the computer. An entry contains the same information as a card in the print card catalog.  Again, make sure you write down the call numbers of the books that interest you.

The call number--The call number tells you where a book, CD, or videotape is located on the shelves. Every item in the library has a unique call number. There are two main ways libraries organize their books. They either use the Dewey Decimal classification system or the Library of Congress classification system. Both systems group books by subject. For instance, all the books about Martin Luther King, Jr. will be together in one area. All the books on gardening or hockey or travel will be grouped together. Books are arranged by their call numbers on the shelves. Call numbers always go in order by number and letter.

How do I find a book on the library shelves? Now that you have copied down the call numbers of the books you want, you will need to find the books on the shelves. The shelves are arranged in call number order. Each row of shelves usually has a sign that tells you what call numbers are on those shelves. Try looking around for the call number section you need. If you can’t find the section, just ask a librarian.

Subjects in the Dewey Decimal System

Philosophy and Related Areas
Social Sciences
Pure Sciences
Technology (Applied Sciences)
The Arts
Literature and Rhetoric
General Geography and History

Most public libraries will be organized according to the Dewey Decimal System.

Other libraries, such as large university libraries, will frequently be organized according to the Library of Congress system.

Subjects in the Library of Congress

General Works
Philosophy and Religion
History (General)
History (Old World)
American History and General U.S. History
American History (Local and Latin American)
Social Sciences
Political Sciences
Fine Arts
Language and Literature
Agriculture, Forestry, Animal Culture, Fish, Hunting
Military Science
Naval Science
Bibliography and Library Science

Finding magazine articles in the library--

Using the Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature-- Let’s go back to your history paper. Suppose your teacher asked everyone to find a magazine article about the leader they chose. The Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature is the best place to start looking for articles. The Readers’ Guide is a set of green books that is usually shelved in the reference area of the library. The reference area is where encyclopedias, atlases, dictionaries and other books that can’t be checked out of the library are shelved.

Each volume of the Readers’ Guide contains listings of magazine articles from one year. To find articles about Dr. King, you could look at the recent volumes to see if any articles have been written about him recently. Or you could look at a volume from the 1960's to find articles that were written then. The Readers’ Guide lists magazine articles by subject. If you look up King, Martin Luther in any year’s volume, you’ll see a list of citations for magazine articles about him. A citation gives the information you need to find the entire article in the library. A citation lists the name of the author, the name of the article, what magazine it appeared in, the date, volume, and page numbers.

Here is an example of a citation from the Readers’ Guide:

The dream is alive and well. C.S. King.  Newsweek v.125 p.17 Ja 23, ‘95.

The first thing listed in the citation is the title of the article. In this case, “The dream is alive and well” is the title of this article about Dr. King. CS King is the author of the article. Newsweek is the magazine that the article appeared in. “V.  125" stands for volume 125, the volume number of the magazine. “P. 17" means that the article begins on page 17. “JA 23, ‘95" means that January 23, 1995 is the date the magazine was published.

Once you have found citations for articles about Dr. King, you should copy the complete citation for each article that interests you. For example, if you wanted to find the article listed above, you’d need to copy down all the information in the citation. Sometimes the name of the magazine will be abbreviated. You can look in the front of any volume of the Readers Guide, and it will provide a list of abbreviations and what they mean.

How do I find a magazine on the library shelves?

Now that you have the citations for the magazine articles, you need to find the magazines in the library. Many libraries have an area where the magazines are shelved in alphabetical order. Some libraries mix the magazines with the books on the shelves. If you don’t see a magazine area in your library, just ask a librarian to show you where the magazines are kept.

Some important words to know-- Fiction books describe imaginary characters and events. Fiction books are often shelved alphabetically by the author’s last name. Novels, short stories, poems and plays are examples of fiction. Nonfiction books describe real things or real events. Travel guides, biographies, science, history and “How To” books are examples of nonfiction.

Where to look for information--

The reference section-- The reference section is another important part of the library. It contains nonfiction books that can help you find out about a topic. The reference section includes books such as encyclopedias, dictionaries, Who’s Who, atlases and maps. Reference books usually can’t be checked out of the library. That way they are always there for people to use. The reference section often has tables or desks where you may sit to use the reference books. You may take notes there. Sometimes you can photocopy the pages you need to use at home.

Periodicals-- Periodicals are also found in the library. Periodicals include magazines and newspapers that come out periodically—on a set schedule. Newspapers may come out every day or once a week. Magazines may come out weekly, monthly, or several times per year. Periodicals may have their own section in the library. Or, they may be shelved along with the books by their topic.

The Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature is a good place to begin looking for periodicals. The Readers’ Guide is usually shelved in the reference section of the library. It is a guide to a large number of U.S. periodicals and is arranged by author and subject. The Guide includes listings of fiction, poems, records, and reviews of dance, music, movies, television, radio, theater programs, and more. The Readers’ Guide is not the only periodical index. There are others. If you learn how to use the Readers’ Guide, you should be able to use the others without much trouble. Let’s go back to your Civics paper. If you want to use a periodical to get more information about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., look under King, Martin Luther in the Readers’ Guide. The list tells you where to find articles about your topic

What else can I find in a library?

Besides these materials to help you with your questions, the library has lots of other resources.
You might find:
albums, tapes, and other recordings. You can find all kinds of music, such as music from other parts of the world. You may also find poems, plays, stories to be read aloud, books for the blind, books on tape.  Films, videotapes, and film strips. You may check these out from many libraries. You might find classic movies, "How To" videos, and much more.

News and information. You can catch up on world or local news, the latest in sports, travel, poetry, novels, or science fiction.
pieces of art to check out for display in your home.

What else do I need to know?

Libraries also have another valuable resource— LIBRARIANS. Librarians are there to help you find the information you need. If you are confused or cannot find something, ask one for help.