How do I use the Library? -- Collections

Compact DiscMore than just books

These days, libraries offer way more than just books. Your local library holds a wealth of knowledge in various formats and mediums—all available at your fingertips.

Periodical Collection
In addition to non-fiction, fiction and reference collections, many libraries have a periodicals section, complete with contemporary magazines and newspapers, and some with full-runs of specific publications. You may be able to look up a May 1978 issue of National Geographic to research a woman’s trek across the Australian outback, browse through the most recent copy of People to catch up on the latest in celebrity news or even check the stock market in today’s Wall Street Journal.

Audio Collection
Many libraries also have extensive audio collections that allow you to pull up archives of music and spoken word. For example, the Library of Congress has an extensive archive of hip hop and rap music that documents the history behind the genre’s emergence into mainstream pop culture. Call or visit your local library or its website to learn what it offers.

Digital Collection
Following in line with the latest technological trends, libraries may also have digital collections of photographs and posters from specific time periods. Whether you’re researching for an assignment or just curious about the past, digital collections may be available. For example, the New York Public Library has nearly 80 digitized collections, featuring images from an array of time periods and topics. Collections document everything from the history of early baseball to 700 years worth of medical and scientific illustrations.

Did you ever wish you could take the library with you, perhaps on your mp3 player? Many libraries now have podcast or mp3 collections that are available for download. The Seattle Public Library offers audio recordings of its many discussions, readings and lectures by authors and public figures dating back to 2006. All podcasts are downloadable in mp3 format directly through the Seattle Public Library’s Web site or with a subscription through iTunes. Visit your library’s Web site to check out what it has to offer.

Family History
If you’ve ever wondered about your family’s roots, visit your local library. Libraries may offer an extensive genealogy and heraldry collection that can help locate your family crest or trace your ancestors’ first steps on American soil. The Family History Library is touted as the premiere genealogical destination in the U.S. The library offers 2.4 million rolls of microfilmed genealogical records, with records available from the U.S., Canada, the British Isles, Europe, Latin America, Asia and Africa. The library even offers online genealogy searches. Visit your library and ask what historical or genealogical records it houses.

Collection Layout
Some collections are organized by topic rather than by medium. For example, the Chicago Public Library dedicates an entire floor at its main branch to Visual and Performing Arts—an arts collection covering everything from crafts to theater history. To supplement its vast collection of books on the arts, the library offers visitors an extensive collection of pamphlets, pictures, periodicals, videos, recordings and scores.

Access Collections
To access these collections and more, all you need to do is a little research. Check out your local library’s Web site to uncover the multitude of special and unique collections in your area. Or if you’re feeling a little adventurous, take an impromptu trip to your local library and explore the grounds to see what it has to offer. Collections vary by library and location, but they are all waiting for your curiosity to unlock them. Just don’t forget your library card!