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Academic libraries

The university library is an important feature of your degree. Katie tells us more.
books on brown wooden shelf
© University of York

With the closure of many public and school libraries, a large number of students will start university without ever having used a library. That’s fine! We know everyone has had very different library experiences – you’re not expected to know how it all works and there will be plenty of help.

Even if you are a regular library user, academic libraries are typically a little different and library systems can vary a lot, especially between countries. This article gives a basic overview to give you an idea of what to expect, even if you have never borrowed a book from a library before.

What is an academic library?

What do we even mean by the word library?

  • Is it a collection of texts?
  • Is it the building?
  • Is it a service?

The answer is all of the above! An academic library is typically made up from one or more physical library buildings, which are open to you as a student for the duration of your degree. Library collections are both physical and digital, and can be found within the library building(s), alongside library staff, who run a range of services designed to support study and research.

Most academic libraries will have a general collection, from which you will be able to borrow books and journals (academic ‘magazines’). You might take your books to a circulation desk where a librarian will register your loans for you on your online account. However, many libraries now have self-issue machines – effectively self-service points where you can borrow and return books yourself.

When you borrow a book, the item will be on loan to you until a given date – a due date or return date. You can check your account to see when these return dates are. Not all university libraries charge late return fees, but if you can’t return a book because you’ve been ill, any fines would usually be waived.

Online resources

Academic libraries provide an increasing number of online resources, including access to databases, journals, and ebooks. You’ll generally find these listed in the library catalogue, but you may also have direct links to them from electronic reading lists that are put together for your courses.

Access to ebooks through academic libraries is generally a little different from public library provision. In most cases, you can’t download to a kindle or similar e-reader; instead, you can either read the text online, download some form of pdf. version as a loan or download an individual chapter, usually as a permanent file. The library will be able to tell you about accessible text options if that is something you require.

Finding what you need

To check whether the library has an item, and where you can find it, you will use the library catalogue. This is a web resource that will list everything the library has a physical copy of, as well as all the online resources the library provides. You will usually receive training on how to use the catalogue to find what you need during your first few weeks at University by your friendly librarians. If you are unsure after this stage, you can ask at the library helpdesk or liaise with your departmental library contact.

Many academic libraries offer different study areas, allowing you to choose between silent zones, quiet spaces and areas where background noise is allowed. Or you may prefer to borrow resources and work elsewhere entirely. Here at the University of York, the library has flexible opening hours, with open access most days for 24 hours. This allows you to study around other commitments, such as placements or caring responsibilities, or at a time that suits you.

Over to you

We’re interested in hearing about any or your experiences of libraries – whether these are public libraries or those in schools, colleges or university, so make sure to contribute to the discussion! Here are some things to think about:

  • What were your experiences in finding the resources you needed?
  • If you are thinking about coming to university, what are your thoughts about using the library?
© University of York
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