Off the Shelf: More Library Pro Tips Save You Time and Money

Whether you’ve been going to a public library since you were a kid or you’ve never been to one, we all have a picture of what a library is. Sometimes that image can be limiting. Modern public libraries have a wide range of services that you might not expect and that always are evolving. Last month, I shared seven pro tips. As I said then, there are more than could be contained in one column, so here are more tips to give you an insider’s look at some of the ways you can make the most of your library.

Pro Tip #8

There are options to help you avoid fees.

Sadly, some people shy away from using their library for fear that they will end up with fees that they can’t afford. It is easy to say that we should all just return our items on time and we’ll never get a fee. It is true, but life isn’t always that simple. Transportation, illness, and other barriers might keep you from getting to the library on time. You also might need some more time to finish reading that book or listening to that audio. Don’t let concerns about the one week or three week due dates stop you from reaping the rewards of using your library.

If getting to the library during open hours is a concern, you can use the outside return slots. Most libraries offer an after hours means of returning items.

Another option is renewals. Call us, stop in, or use your online library account through the catalog on the website and you can extend your checkout time. In fact, at our library, the checkout system will automatically renew your items if they are eligible. There are very few cases where an item can’t be renewed at least once. The most common reason is that another card holder is on a waiting list for it. More popular, newer items are most likely to have this happen. That doesn’t mean that you need to avoid checking out these items, but you might want to use them first and keep a closer eye on their due dates. If you aren’t sure about due dates, you can check your online account or give the library a call.

Also, check with your library about their fee policy. Some libraries offer grace periods after the due date before daily fees are added. Others don’t charge daily fees for a period of time until their system marks the item as presumed lost and adds a fee then. Fees will also be added if an item is damaged. Water damage, coffee spills, and rambunctious puppies are the most common reason that we see damaged items. Life happens. Most libraries have ways to work with you if paying a fee is challenging. At our library, we have a payment plan option that lets you keep checking out while you pay small amounts toward your fees.

Pro Tip #9

Holds aren’t just for when there is a waiting list on an item.

If you want an item that is already checked out, you can get on the waiting list by placing a hold through the online catalog or by talking to a staff member. Library pros know that you can also use the online catalog to place a hold on items that aren’t checked out. For example, if you need books for a project or a stack of fiction to take on your vacation, you can browse the online catalog from home in the evening, log into your account, and use the “place hold” button on any items that you want. Your library team runs a list of requested items the next morning and pulls what you requested from the shelves, bundles them, and adds them to the hold shelf. This pro move allows you to stop in, go straight to the hold shelf for your items that may have come from all over the library, and check them out. Holds can be a huge time saver for you.

Pro Tip #10

Make use of a thing we call readers advisory.

Readers advisory is one of those library terms that most people haven’t heard, but could find very useful. I find that library users most often think to ask for advice on finding a book if they are looking for something in nonfiction. When someone needs a book on building a deck, using Excel, or training that rambunctious puppy, they are likely to stop and ask for guidance. That is a smart move, because the library staff are pros at searching the catalog and know the collection well. They might find the books you asked about and also suggest a DVD or online resource or even track down something that isn’t in the library’s collection.

Fiction readers are more likely to rely on browsing or recommendations from friends. Those are great, but don’t forget that your library team members can help here, too. Not only are we readers who, like your friends, can share books and authors that we have enjoyed, we also have tools to recommend things that we have never read. One of those tools is available to you through our online catalog. You can look up a title in the catalog, click on the title, and scroll to the bottom of that record. You’ll find a link that says “syndetics unbound.” This tool gives your reviews for that title, as well as recommends other titles and authors that you might like. For example, I’m currently reading “The Clockmaker’s Daughter” by Kate Morton. I’ve read all her other titles. Using this tool, I can see that I might want to try Diane Setterfield or Liane Moriarty next. Your library team loves helping your find your next item to read, so don’t hesitate to ask for advice.

Pro Tip #11

If you don’t find it on the shelf or in the catalog, it doesn’t mean you can’t get it.

Sometimes an item isn’t on the shelf because it is checked out, waiting to be shelved, or in mending. A staff member can help you track it down.

If an item isn’t in the library catalog, be sure to ask about it. If you request an item and the library adds it to the collection, you will be put on the wait list for it, so you get contacted when it is available. Most libraries, including ours, have a form on their website that you can use to request an item.

If the library doesn’t buy the item you want for their collection, all hope isn’t lost. In many cases, they will employ the magic of interlibrary loan. We regularly locate and borrow items for libraries across the state and throughout the country for our users. A library’s reach is larger than its own collection, so be sure to ask.

Pro Tip #12

Library Card Sign Up Month offers perks.

September is Library Card Sign Up Month. Each year, libraries use this time to remind people that a library card has the power to transform lives by opening access to information and services. Libraries also may offer some added perks if you get a card or use your card that month.

If you’ve haven’t used your Burlington card lately and can’t locate it, stop by for a replacement card at no cost in September. While you are at the library, you also can show your card at the Footnotes used book store in the lobby to be entered into a drawing for a gift certificate to the shop. Thanks to Burlington by the Book on Jefferson for partnering with us again this year, too. Burlington card holders can show their card at the book store for a 10% discount in September on regularly priced books, excluding magazines and books sold on commission.

If you don’t have a card, it only takes a few minutes to set up an account. Call us if you are unsure about what to bring or if you are eligible.

I hope that you found some useful pro tips to enhance your use of the library or entice you to become a user. The most important tip that I can offer is to ask your library team. We are here for you.

See you at the library!