Ultimate List of Library Hacks

This week is National Library Week, and I want to help you make the most of your library.

Every library and library system is different, so the most important tip is the first one – get to know YOUR library, and see what they have to offer.

(photo credit: Sarah Ronk)

    The Basics

  1. Dig deep into your library’s website and see what’s there – not all library systems have the same resources, and specifics will vary depending on where you live. Look for website pages like “using your library” or “services” to get the details.
  2. Know your limits – for reserves, checkouts, ILL requests.
  3. Provide your email address when you sign up for your library card – most systems will use it to send email reminders about due dates.
  4. Sign up for the library newsletters – it’s one of the best ways to stay informed as to events and programs they’re offering. Author talks, movie nights, special displays, craft programs, and language lessons have all been offered at my local library recently.
  5. Got questions? Ask the librarians – they love helping. If you don’t have time to go into the library, see if they offer phone, text, or chat support as well.
  6. Requesting Titles and Putting Materials on Hold

  7. If you don’t see something you want – ask for it! Most libraries have ways for you to suggest titles for purchase. Bonus: often you’ll be placed at the front of the line to borrow items you’ve suggested if they decide to purchase them.
  8. Place items on hold so they’re available for easy pick-up. This is especially helpful if they’re popular items you’ll never see on the shelf, but it also makes things easier if you’ve got small children who make library visits more challenging.
  9. Suspend your holds if you know you won’t be able to pick them up (say, you’re going on vacation), or if you need to balance out your requests (say, if you’ve gone on a reserving binge and don’t want ALL THE BOOKS to arrive at once). You may have options of suspending holds for anywhere from 1 to 180 days, and should be able to remove the suspension at any time.
  10. Looking for a popular title? Check into alternative formats, such as electronic copies, audio books (downloadable and CD copies), or even large print.
  11. Digital Advantages

  12. Adjust your dates – you may be able to modify checkout times for electronic items from anywhere between 3 and 21 days
  13. Your reading list is bigger than your check-out limit? Create a wishlist (or two) and make it easy to remember what you want to borrow next. Depending on the system, you may be able to have separate wishlists for digital and physical books, and may even be able to have more than one wishlist saved by the library system.
  14. Look into all the digital options offered. Possibilities include Hoopla for TV, movies, documentaries, instructional videos, or music; Freegal for music or music videos, and Flipster or Zinio for magazines. That’s in addition to options for books and audiobooks!
  15. Use the Google Chrome extension to quickly search for a book at your library. While you browse Amazon, GoodReads, or other book-focused sites, it’ll tell you immediately if a book is available at your library.
  16. More Than Just Books

  17. Think beyond books – libraries may loan physical items such as tools, kitchen equipment, board games, puzzles, toys, even art.
  18. Researching something specialized? See what databases are offered, and know that additional options may be available to use from the library itself. If you’re into genealogy, it’s common that libraries offer Heritage Quest access from your home computer, but Ancestry’s database can only be used while in the library. Other databases may have similar restrictions due to licensing agreements.
  19. Libraries often offer free or discounted rates on meeting space. Sometimes they have spaces that can be used but not reserved in advance, and other times they may have rooms you can book ahead of time, depending on your needs and their policies. Be sure to read library policies to know what’s permitted in the space and what isn’t.
  20. Most public libraries offer WiFi for free, and many also have computers to use, as well as printing capabilities (for a nominal fee).
  21. Looking to learn something? See if your library offers Mango, Lynda, Gale, or Rosetta Stone. They may also have free or low-cost tutoring, as well as classes on various topics. Tech help and tinker stations are also common if you’re considering an e-reader but need some assistance.
  22. Still Need More?

  23. Take advantage of Inter Library Loan – if your library doesn’t have a particular book and you need that specific title, see if you can get it from another library via ILL. These titles are sometimes loaned with more restriction, such as a shorter loan period and no possibility of renewing the loan, so be aware of that before you request. Libraries often have limits on how many ILL requests you can place in a time period, such as one per month. There may be a small fee for them as well (usually it’s under $5, and meant to cover postage).
  24. Want to add to your own library collection? Check out the library book sales. You can get great deals on used books and support your library at the same time.
  25. Look into getting access to other libraries in your area. You may already be a member of a library consortium, or you may be able to purchase membership to a larger library (and it may be worth it to you if they have significantly better offerings). You may also have access to local college or university libraries and their more specialized collections.


  1. OMG! You seriously just made my day with the Google Chrome extension. I have been wishing for that feature in Goodreads forever. This is going to help me SO much!!!

  2. The large print trick is seriously how I got Books 2 and 3 in the Red Rising series right away with no wait–the holds list for the regular version was dozens long, but no one had the large print ones on hold!

    Our library actually has a seed library, where you “check out” an envelope of seeds, grow the plant, then save the seeds from it and “return” them to the library. I haven’t done it because, black thumb, but it seems to be popular. They had a booth promoting it at the farmer’s market last weekend.

    • The seed library is a really great idea! You know, for those people who are talented at growing things. 😉

  3. So many people with ereaders don’t realize they can “check out” eBooks from the library just like regular books. It’s really easy. The only drawback is waiting your turn and having to be done in 14 days.

    • Or 21 days, like my library offers! 🙂 I can choose for ebooks – 7, 14, or 21 day checkouts. I have my default checkout time as 21 days, because with the Kindle app I can return it early if I need to (or want to be nice to other people if I know there’s a long holds list).

      I should probably have added that as another hack – with Kindle devices you can return ebooks early (and clear up space to borrow additional titles). Nooks don’t allow that option apparently!

  4. Your post galvanised me into something I have meant to do for two weeks – check out what free access I can get to some genealogy sites via my library membership. thanks for a much needed nudge – as you say, libraries are about more than books

  5. Love this list! And if you live in a tiny (rural) town like me, ebooks are a great way to expand your libraries’ offerings!

  6. Checking out that Google Chrome extension right now. That’s awesome!

  7. I was just in the library the other day and waiting to talk to a librarian while he was on the phone looking up hepatitis for someone. He promised to print out some info and have it waiting at the desk for them. So yep librarians answer questions over the phone, even weird medical ones.

    Also I was wondering if you could provide a link to the Chrome extension, that sounds great!

  8. Thanks, I do love my local library’s and use both the city of Plymouth’s libraries and Devon County. I definitely wouldn’t’ read as much if I had to buy all the books I read. Shame I don’t use chrome any more.

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