Thursday, October 16, 2014

5 reasons you should have a library card

Graz University library. Source: Wikimedia.

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. 

1.  Access to online paywall content.  My local library gives paywall access to, Morningstar, online journals, and more.  It also provides Hoopla video ( 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. 

2.  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. 

3.  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.) 

4.  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.  

5.  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 the US 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!  


  1. Wow! Thanks for the shout out not just for libraries but for librarians! We <3 you back!

    1. I agree with Debbie. Thanks, Dr. Russell, for sharing with us this tool. It is also very helpful to know all the advantages and services we can have with them.

      I asked in my college and now I have mine.

  2. from the long ago period of 2012 - btw, thanks for the library card info -
    re: College and University library cards - do they tend to work at affiliated schools; e.g., all Ivy League or does a UofMI card work at The Ohio State?
    beating Nexus 6
    diversion and inoculation of sorts…
    Pahinui Bros with Ry Cooder

  3. Good reminder about University. Mine started making lots of stuff available to alumni only in May this year. First call to find out what my magic number was from early 60s. Got it. Now trying to get the application.

    Library cards can be got in England at any library by email and used anywhere in the country. At least you could a year ago. I use it lots.

    Reference Librarians: Project Wombat is n online resource for reference librarians to ask questions of each other. They are very polite and will let ordinary people ask questions too. I've been a member for years.


    jon tU

  4. Amazing, thanks!

    Last time I checked, public libraries in Portugal didn't have most of those. Anyway, your list is extremelly helpful: it will help me to check those features one by one, on the libraries I used or where I have teached.

    In the meantime, and thanks to this post, I've already found Amazon's recent library card for Kindle books, which unfortunately is still only available in the US.

  5. Jon tU, getting a library by email is a great idea. Hope more countries do that soon.

    Amazon library card is great tool and new for me, Luis. Thanks for sharing. There is also an opportunity to borrow some books through Google in US.

    [Biblioteca virtuales|digitales] [Virtual|Digital Libraries]
    Many results

    [Biblioteca digital UNAM]

    Digital Library Universidad Latinoamericana. Provides links to access other sources.

    [Biblioteca digital UNAM]

    Digital Library and links to Libraries. For example, UNAM and other Latin American sites.

    Digital Library UNAM

    [Biblioteca digital ITESM]

    Digital Library ITESM. They offer also a site just for alumni and employees.

    My University, UDLAP, offers different services. In campus total access. In other places, they offer only part. You need to have be part of their community. They don't provide a number like the one Dr. Russell has. They give you a password.

  6. Dan - Thanks for the support - we need it. A politician in the UK recently suggested closing all libraries and giving everyone an Ipad instead - SIGH.
    My local public library (UK) offers access to ebooks, audio online, local photos, Britannica, newspapers etc

    It also offers access to family history resources though you have to go to the library for that. There is also a UK wide pilot project to give the public access to research journals - though again you have to visit the library for that.

    Academic and NHS staff and students can use OpenAthens or Shibboleth for access to resources if they are entitled to.

    Re - your trumpet players query - I did the search on Medline (Pubmed) and found nothing. I also searched on Embase which is a paid for database with a more European bias and also found nothing. So urban myth for definite, I'd say. The systematic review on the topic is a long way off ;)

    Need to get my Internet Archive Library card now.