Using a university library
The library might begin to feel like your second home at university. Read our guide so you know your way around
Independent study is a big part of university life. As well as writing essays and other work, you’ll have to spend lots of time reading and preparing for lectures and seminars, so you need to know how to get the right information when you need it. Which means not just searching the internet, but also the shelves of your department library at university. So how do you find what you’re looking for?
Your tutors will normally give you a reading list of recommended texts which they will be using throughout the course. They are also often available online. Almost all of these will be available in your department's library. Read our article Buying books and equipment for more advice.
You'll also want to look up other books related to your subject that aren’t on the reading list. Not only will you gain a greater understanding of the subject, but quoting from them in your essays demonstrates that you’ve put more effort into your research, and haven’t just stuck to the books you’ve already been told about. As your degree goes on, being able to find information without a reading list will become more and more important, so it's a good idea to get used to doing it first.
All the recommended texts should be in your departmental library, as well as lots of other books, journals, newspapers and DVDs. Most universities also offer access to online resources such as journal archives and reference works, which you can access from library computers. Usually, you can also register an account to access these from other computers. You might have to be on campus to register, so make sure you do this before going home for the holidays.
You'll normally be able to borrow a certain number of books for a certain length of time from the library. If you return books late, you'll have to pay a fine, and you might not be allowed to take any more books out until you've paid up. Some libraries will allow you to request an extension online if nobody else has reserved the book, the number of books you can have out at once might go up in your final year.
Some books aren't available for borrowing: you'll have to read them in the library and make notes, or take photocopies if that's allowed. You can expect to spend more time reading books in the library as your degree goes on, as you'll be using more specialist books.
Remember that Your university ID card will also normally be your library card, which you’ll need to get books out of the library. It’s normally free to get most books out, but you will be charged fines if you return them late. Not everything can be taken out of the library though, so for certain things like journals and some reference books you’ll need to do your reading in the library and photocopy any pages you need.
If you need to use another department's library, remember that the rules might be different, and you might not be allowed to borrow things from departments other than your own.
Using the library
Most departments have a library induction session at the start of your course. During this session you will meet the librarians, who will explain how things are filed, how to reserve or get things out, how to use the electronic databases, the library opening hours and lots of other useful information. Of course, you shouldn't be afraid to ask the librarians for help if you get stuck looking for things later on.
The rules of the library can be quite strict, covering things like noise, what you can bring in with you and how rare books should be handled. The best way to make an enemy of your librarian and land yourself with a big fine is to write in the library books, so make your notes separately.
Remember that lots of other people will be after the same books as you. The library won’t have a copy for everyone, so get to the library early to make sure you can withdraw or photocopy the books you need before they’re all taken out. On the other hand, you shouldn't take books out and then wait ages to use them: not only will this annoy the other people on your course, many libraries allow other students to recall books, forcing whoever has it out to return it early.