Accessing the Library

Academic Life

Articles for students and families transitioning into higher education.

Accessing the Library

  • AsIAm
  • 10/05/2021
  • 15 minutes read

Accessing the library can be a really important part of student life for a wide variety of reasons, Your University or College Library is more than just a space to borrow books and study. You can access support from your Disability Support Service, access computers, printers or study spaces in quieter parts of the Library, get support with studying, escape the sensory overload that occasionally arises from the hustle and bustle of the main campus. 

Many autistic students believe that being in the Library was a helpful space for these reasons, though it can take some time to get to grips with how the Library works, which can look different depending on the University you go to, and you might have some worries about using the Library. This is absolutely fine to have these worries, as libraries may have different parts you might have sensory issues with like lights, sounds or barriers, parts of the building that you might get lost in or understanding how borrowing or returning books work. 

Whilst the best place to consult is your Library’s website as they will contain specific information to your Library, this article can help give you a sense of what borrowing and returning a book looks like, how to use the Library website to access resources, some of the other services the Library can provide and what aspects you might need to consider or prepare for to have a pleasant experience of using the Library throughout your studies.   

How do I borrow a Book at a Library?

The first thing you need to do is to look at your University’s Library Catalogue, which can be found through the Library website or at a kiosk that you can find throughout the building. 

Usually, a Library’s catalogue is structured sequentially to make it easier to find what you’re looking for, with sections for each academic discipline like History, Law, Science or Business, or Cultural Studies. In order to check and find out if a book is available, you need to first type in either the title of the book or a keyword that matches the subject you’re looking for. 

If we search for “Irish History Early 20th Century” into the database, it will return search results for both books that have those words in the title, as well as books with these keywords that would address these topics. You can also adjust this search so that it can only return books or books from specific collections a specific Library might have. 

The more accurate and concise the search term is, the more likely the database will return the search you want, so the best way to find the book you want is to put the main title of the book you want into the database. 

Every book in the library may have its own unique shelfmark or a call number that you use to locate the book at the Library, depending on the type of referencing system your University or College’s Library might use. This call number is usually read from left to right and might usually contain a subject that denotes what the book is about or a specific topic, along with a code that might identify the author, like their surname. Make a note of the shelfmark or call number, or whatever system the Library uses to identify each book as you will need it when you go looking for the book on the shelves. 

You might notice that some of the signs at the Library have a code with a subject next to it that lets you know the section in the library the book may be located. You can use the code to guide you to the section of the Library where the book may be located. 

When you reach the section of the Library you are looking for, you can use the signs at the end of each shelf to help you to locate where the book is on the shelf. Each section of the Library is ordered from left to right and from top to bottom. Within each section, each book has a label denoting its call number or shelfmark, which can be broken into parts according to its subject number, specific subject number and the author’s surname. 

First, use the subject number to find the section where the book is contained, and then use the code to look for the shelf that all the books that are on the same subject are held. Once you find the section where all the books are contained, go through the section from left to right, as within this subject, the books may be arranged in alphabetical order according to the author’s surname. Move along the shelves until you find the first letter of the author’s surname. Once you do so, keep moving from left to right then the 2nd and 3rd letters or numbers, which is the exact location of the book. There might be a number of copies contained in the Library, and the Library’s database will let you know how many copies are available. Once you find the book, you can read it at the Library, make photocopies of the sections you need or borrow the book for a period of time. Once you are finished with the book, please put the book in the nearest trolley section where you can drop it off as this allows the librarians to put it back in its right place.      

If you wish to borrow the book, you can use the Self-Service Checkout kiosks located at the lobby. When you are at the Checkout machine, click “Checkout” and put your Student ID card    on the platform with the barcode under the red line. Once scanned, the machine will proceed to check your account and make a sound to indicate that the check has been successful. You can take back your card. 

Open the book that you want to borrow. Inside the cover or within the first few pages, you will find a barcode at the bottom. Move the book, barcode first, along the platform until the barcode is under the red line. Hold it, and in most cases the system will make a ‘thud’ sound and show “Success” on the screen to ensure that the scan has been successful. The title of the book you have borrowed will appear on the right of the screen. Repeat this procedure with any other books you wish to borrow, and touch ‘Finished’ when you’re finished. Try not to wait too long, or otherwise a warning message will appear. This might say “Touch ‘CONTINUE’ if you have more items or touch ‘DONE’ to end session.” Touch CONTINUE if you wish to borrow more items, or touch DONE to finish. If you don’t respond to this, the session will automatically end. The machine will print out a receipt showing the titles you have borrowed and a summary of your Library account. This will also show the due date where you have to return the book. You can put that inside the book if you have any queries or if you need a reminder of when you need to return the book. 

 You can only take out the books you are entitled to do so, and if you owe fines to the Library, you may be prevented from borrowing another book until you have paid off the fine, or if you have any other overdue books.  

If you have any issues, you can go to the Library staff and they will be happy to help you.

Making a Return

When you’re at the Self-Service Checkout, you can choose the ‘Returns’ option on the touchscreen.

Open the book that you wish to return. Inside the cover or on the first few pages there will be a barcode at the bottom. Put the book, barcode first, along the platform and slide it along until the barcode is under the red line. Hold it, and in most cases the system will make a ‘thud’ sound and show “Success” with a sound on the screen to ensure that the scan has been successful. The title of the book that you just returned will appear on the right hand side of the screen.

 Before you remove the book from the platform, pay attention to the instruction on the screen on where to place the returned book – you might be asked to place the book in the Returns slot, or on the Returns trolley depending on whether the book is Open Access or belongs to Special Collections. Place the book on the exact spot that the system instructs you to, as this helps the Librarians when returning the book to its place in the Library. Up until this point, you are responsible for the book’s condition. 

Repeat the same procedure if you have any more books to return, and touch ‘Finished’ once you’re finished.  If you wait too long, or otherwise a warning message will appear. This might say “Touch ‘CONTINUE’ if you have more items or touch ‘DONE’ to end session.” Touch CONTINUE if you wish to borrow more items, or touch DONE to finish. If you don’t respond to this, the session will automatically end. 

The machine will print out a list of books that you have returned. Hold onto your receipt, as this will act as proof if something goes wrong with the returns process.                  

If you have any issues or questions, you can go to the Library staff and they will be happy to help you.

Finding an e-Book

If you would like to access a book but the Library might not have, the Library might also give you the option to look at an e-book version of the same book that you can access through a laptop or mobile device. Every University or College Library will have different ways of accessing the Library’s database of electronic books and articles, but first you need to log into the Library website using your details. 

If you are looking for a particular book, you can enter the book’s title into the search bar, and select the option you would use to look for a book. Once the results are displayed, you can further filter your search results by subject , author, availability, or from a specific collection. Below the publisher’s details, you might see an option that states that the book might be available as a physical resource in the Library or as an online resource. If you see an option like ‘Available Online’, this means that the particular resource is an e-book that you can access on your laptop, tablet or phone. To access the digital version of the book, click this button. When the page appears, you can select the link to view online. As e-books are provided by different publishers, the University or College Library, once the link is selected, it will likely direct you to the publisher of the e-book’s page. Whilst each publisher’s site looks different, each publisher will provide a way for you to read a resource online or borrow it for a limited time. If the option appears to read online, you can select this, and the publisher will direct you to a EPUB or PDF version of the book. The publisher might annotate the book to help you to reach a particular page quickly, or you can browse in the same you might use when reading a webpage. You might be able to also click on the different chapters in the Table of Contents which will allow you to go to a particular chapter. The publisher might give you the option to download particular chapters, highlight certain sections or print a certain number of pages. 

You might also be allowed to download a book onto the device you’re accessing for a limited time, and if an option appears, you can select ‘Download e-book’ to download the book onto the device. You might need to have Adobe Digital Editions installed to fully access the book, and this might also give you the option on how long you want to download the book for, and what format (EPUB or PDF) you wish to download the file. Once the loan has expired, the ebook will be automatically deleted from your device, but you can download it again by repeating the steps earlier.  

Each Library has their own process of downloading an e-book, and if you need any assistance with this, you can just ask your librarian.       

Finding a Journal Article

Another source of information that might be helpful to you in your studies is a journal article. A journal article is usually shorter than a book and comes out several times every year as issues or editions. Your University or College will provide access through the Library or through Databases like JSTOR provide access to thousands of journals, with millions of articles covering a wide range of subjects.   

Every Library database is different, they will provide an option to search for a journal you’re looking for, and will have more specific information on how to access books and journal articles in the Library. This might include an option to explore the collection of journals the Library currently has in its database, or it may ask you to search from them. A lecturer might also provide you with a reading list of recommended journal articles, which might include the authors name(s), the year it was published, the article’s title, the name of the journal, the article is published, the volume and issue number and the page numbers containing the article. 

The reference might follow this format:

Author names. (year). ‘Title of article’, Name of Journal, Volume number (Issue number), pages. 

Type the name of the journal into the search bar and press the search button or icon. Once the result is displayed, you can click on the link to access the full text content of the online journal. From there, select the year the particular article is from, and then the volume of your article appears. Finally click the link for the issue your journal article appears. Once you find the article you’re looking for, there will be a PDF button that will let you read the article, or download and read a full version of the article. They will also show an Abstract, which will give a brief summary of what the article says. 

If you wanted to search for journal articles that relate to a broader topic, but don’t know the exact name of the source you wanted to search for, the Library might also provide you with an option to search through a keyword. Where this is offered, the database can also offer you with an option to search through all resources. From there you can enter your chosen subject into the search bar. This search tool can also provide an option (dropdown menu) where you can search through a specific collection a Library might have (‘Books’, ‘Journals’).  If you are specifically looking for a journal article, select this in the dropdown menu and click on the search button or icon. Once the results are displayed, the database will also provide some sort of option for you to refine your search if you’re looking for a specific article from a particular collection, or for an article based on a specific subject. 

You can contact your helpdesk if you need any support from the Library     

What are some other supports that a Library can provide if you’re an autistic student? 

If you’re an autistic student, you might find that accessing the Library might not be just a space to borrow books and study. It might also be a place where you can access supports from your Disability Support Service, access computers, printers or study spaces in quieter areas away from the main part of the Library when it gets busy, get supports with studying, or escape the sensory overload that occasionally arises from the hustle and bustle of the main campus. Many autistic students believe that being in the Library was a space that they liked for all these reasons and that the supports were all aspects that they found helpful.     

At some Universities or Colleges, your Library will act as a hub from which you can access the supports or accommodation agreed between you and your Disability Support Advisor, as well as provide other facilities that might be helpful to you in your studies. This might mean that this can be a place where you can access computers so you can print off handouts, articles or lecture slides, or they can also offer free or subsidised printing, a designated Assistive Technology Centre where you can access technologies or software or they might have some desks that you can use as a study space.

Assistive Technologies are tools that range from pen grips, ergonomic chairs and desks to computer hardware, software and mobile applications that can help you in your studies by assisting a user to perform the tasks they need. You might also be able to avail of designated Support Workers or Library Assistants that can support you with searching, borrowing, photocopying and returning resource if you find the process difficult or overwhelming. You might be able to also receive materials in different formats from the Library if it is in your Needs Assessment. You can find out more on what specific Library supports you might be entitled to from your University or College’s Disability Support Service.

Your Disability Support Service can also provide you with some additional borrowing rights that are not available to non-disabled or neurotypical students, which might include being able to borrow more books from the Library, or an extended loan period so you can use the book for longer. At any rate, be sure to return any book you borrow on or before the due date to avoid paying fines. Your University or College Library will provide you with more specific information on what borrowing rights that you might be entitled to as a disabled student.       

What are some sensory considerations that I might need to know about when accessing the Library?

When we think of University or College Libraries, we might think of quiet places where you can go to study, access Disability Services and get away from the hustle and bustle of college life. However, the Library will not always be a quiet, peaceful place, particularly during times when assignments are due, during group projects and in the run up to exams. During these times, you might anticipate that the Library might get more crowded and busy, so if it’s not too much hassle, and if you don’t need to access particular supports, you can use the Library during off-peak hours like early in the morning or in the evening when it might be quieter. It might also be useful to bring noise-cancelling headphones, or earplugs with you to the Library if you need to focus on studying or working without distractions. 

If you have issues around bright lights, you can try and see if there are any study places that might be located away from these lights or near windows, or you can bring a pair of sunglasses with you.

If you have any sensory issues around barriers, particularly as going through a barrier can be stressful if you need to flash a card or use a ticket, it might be a good idea to talk to or contact any porters at the entrance on duty and they can let you in, or they may be albe to let you use a designated entrance for disabled students, if available. 

It’s also worth considering that even though many Libraries are well structured and laid out so you know where to go, they also can be imposing environments with so many sections, shelves and study spaces that you can easily get lost in. If you find yourself getting lost, you can look for signs around each floor in the Library that let you know which floor, section of shelf you might be in. 

Once you know where you are, it might get easier to navigate the library and you can use maps dotted around the building or on the library website, which can help you to get to know the building and what sections might be relevant to you in your studies.

Another thing that might be helpful when accessing the library might be getting to know what parts of the building you might be comfortable in, and where certain sections are. This may include where the Disability Service, the Assistive Technology Centre, which section of the Library your course’s books will typically be located, Special Collections if you need them and any exits in case you need to leave quickly.

Asking the librarian to arrange a tour or going on a tour during Orientation Week or Freshers Week might help you to get to know the building.

Many autistic students may also like to know who they need to meet in advance before going to meet them, which might include both what they look like, and what they do that can support you in your studies. Your college or library’s website may dedicate sections of their website to the different supports that you might use like, Disability Supports, subject Librarians or First-Year Supports, so it might be useful to visit these pages in advance before meeting them if you’re feeling uncomfortable or nervous about meeting new people. 

If there is not a dedicated section on the website or if you feel that you need to know more before your visit, you can contact your Library’s Disability Support Service and they might be able to provide you with the information you need to have a more pleasant meeting.

Make sure to read your Library’s Borrowing and Returns Policies and try to make sure not to leave any books overdue if you wish to avoid paying fines. Some people may face the prospect of having to pay fines for forgetting to return the books they borrowed on time, and this can come as a nasty surprise if you have not prepared for it. If that happens the longer you leave returning the book after it becomes overdue, the bigger the fine gets so when that happens, make sure to return the book and as soon as you can and pay off any fines you have as soon as you have the means to do so. 

One thing that might be useful to avoid paying fines is to look at your Library receipt and set yourself a reminder in advance using your phone or Memo of when you need to return each book you’ve borrowed.  This can include the book’s title and author, whether you want to return or to borrow the book again, and the time and the date of when the book is due. This can help you know when you need to return each book and to avoid the stress of having to pay overdue fines.        

What are some things a Library can provide to make your experience easier:

If you need any specific supports within the library, you can always contact your assigned First-Year Coordinator or Disability Support Service within the library and they can help to accommodate your needs. There are also some supports that the library already provides to first-year students that can be helpful to you. These include:

They might run a number of drop-in or appointment clinics on aspects of using the Library like Borrowing Books, Accessing Online Journals, research skills and Academic Writing on a regular basis over the semester. Usually, the Library will email you in advance with particular workshops that will be happening.

Your Disability Support Centre might have a number of quiet study spaces where you can go to study, or there may be designated quiet areas within the library you can study with few distractions.

Your desk might have an overhead lamp or a desk divider which can be helpful if you need to focus.

Your Library might have different ways of entering the building if the barriers are not open and you need to use the building later in the evening.

Your library will endeavor to have a similar layout on each floor, or have a floor plan of the library on the Website, which can help you to find what you need. The library may also have pictures or videos on different parts of the library to help familiarise with what the building looks like on the inside.

There might be a LibGuide for each subject in the Library, and this might contain pictures of the assigned librarian for each subject.

Your library might also have the facility available to students to see online at any time what books you have out on loan and renew them if necessary. The library can also email you before they are due to be returned so you can bring them back on time or renew them, and you can also renew online or pay overdue fines through the library website.


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