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Getting the Most from Your Library Research

One of my early childhood memories is practicing writing my name so that I could get my own library card.  I wanted to be a big girl like my siblings and check out my own library books instead of having my mother check them out for me.  Once a week my mother would take my siblings and me to the local library where we would check out shopping bags full of books, magazines and records.  For big research projects, my mother would take us to the main library downtown where we had access to a larger selection of materials.

Benning Branch Library
Where I first learned to do research
Courtesy DC Public Library, Washingtoniana Division

Benning Branch Library – Children’s Room -1963
Where I spent many of my childhood days
Courtesy DC Public Library, Washingtoniana Division

The library system has grown a lot since my childhood days.  It is now possible to obtain a library card for a variety of library systems.  In addition to providing access to items in the library, the library card also provides access to a wealth of online resources.

Here are a few tips for accessing resources outside of your community library.

  • Community College – The community college in my county allows residents who don’t attend the college to obtain a Community Patron library card. Check with the community college library in your community to see if they have a similar program.
  • Reciprocal Library Agreements -Some library systems have reciprocal agreements with the library systems in nearby communities which allow patrons with a library cards to obtain a free library card by showing a card from their library.
  • Nonresident/Out-of-Region Access - Library cards are not always limited to residents of the community.  Some libraries will also give library cards to people work, go to school or own property in the community.  Other libraries will give a library card to nonresidents for a small fee.  I do a lot of research in Caroline and Spotsylvania County, Virginia. These counties are serviced by the Central Rappahannock Regional Library (CRRL) system.  Since I have no ties to the state or counties, I do not quality for a free library card.  However, I am able to obtain a nonresident library card for an annual fee of $30.
  • College Libraries – Many college libraries will grant library cards to alumni and staff.   Additionally they may have Friends of the Library Program which will give library cards to people who make donations to the school.  College libraries are excellent source for research because they provide access to theses, dissertations and other resources not available at your community library.
  • Library of Congress – For those you who live near Washington, DC, the Library of Congress provides access to prints and photographs, historic newspapers, maps, manuscripts and film and a host of other materials.  Most material must be used onsite, but the Library of Congress is an excellent place for research.
  • Interlibrary Loan Program (ILL) and Worldcat –  Most libraries have an interlibrary loan program (ILL) which allows the user of one library to borrow books from another library.  Worldcat  (http://www.worldcat.org)  provides access to library  collections around the world.  I use Worldcat to locate books of interest and then request them through my local library’s interlibrary loan program.  The books are sent to my local library branch where I can pick it up and return it when I am done.

If you follow the above suggestions you will have access to a wide variety of materials in libraries all over the country which will greatly enhance your research.

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