Reader Friday: How to Find Treasures in the Public Library

We normally have a short-form question and discussion on Reader Fridays, but today we have a special contribution by Dale Ivan Smith, a discussion of the pro tips and tricks to navigate the vast resources of the online library. What could be more appropriate for readers?

Thanks, Dale, for this post!


Dale Ivan Smith 


What to do if your public library is closed evenings, or Sundays, or any other time when you might need to access their resources? How do you find what you seek? 

 The 24/7 Online Library is the answer 

  • Your library card is the key to unlocking treasures online
  • You can do this 24/7
  • You can visit the online, always open library from anywhere you have internet access, not just at home
  • Be sure and pack your library card when you travel

 What You Will Find at the Public Library’s Website 

  • The web address may be on your library card
  • Once at your library’s home page, take a moment to look around
  • There will be a variety of links, perhaps a search box for the catalog and other library resources, perhaps current library events, hours etc.
  • You may find links in a drop-down menu and/or displayed directly on the home page

 What Treasure Do You Seek? 

  • Know what you are looking for
  • What aspect of this area of knowledge do you need?
  • Be as specific as you need, but also be willing to go general and then dive down
  • What areas of research does your story require?

 A Real World Example 

A patron came to me and asked for help in finding books on the U.S. Civil War. I took the patron to the section and did a short “reference interview,” asking questions. What aspect of the Civil War did they need? Military, social, political, economic, or something else? The answer was “economic.” I then asked if there were anything that they needed specifically in terms of economics of the Civil War. They said, “Currency.” After a little more back and forth, it turned out that they were looking for was a book that listed Confederate Paper Money, with current market valuations and condition grades. I love this example of a library search because it shows how starting out with a general subject / topic can put you on the wrong track, but , at the same time how to start general and then zero in on a topic by asking questions. 

 Your Guide 

  • Librarians are here to help
  • They can show you the lay of the land
  • They can teach you how to search on your own, which is especially useful when you are not inside the library building
  • You may be able to chat with a librarian online, too
  • Let them know that you are writing a book or article. Knowing that you are helps them help you
  • Plus, libraries love writers and authors.

 All-Purpose Library Search Tips 

  • Many online library resources such as the card catalog, databases, NoveList, and WorldCat, have a search box where you can type in what you are looking for. That “basic search” casts a wide net and won’t produce focused results like the “advance search” option will, which is where you can search by title, author, or subject, or even combinations of those. Typically, there is a toggle or link for advance search near the search box, or it might display once you’ve done a basic search.
  • A book’s catalog card (“records” in library speak) will display the title and author of the book in question, and then will show subject listings below, which is a very useful way of locating which topics a book might fall

 The Online Library Catalog 

  • Your first stop when looking for a book
  • Check from home to see if your library system owns a copy of the book that you seek
  • If the book is checked out, put yourself on the waiting list

 Research Tip: Evaluating Sources 

The University of Berkley has a very helpful checklist for evaluating published sources, especially books, for when you are doing research on a subject for a book or article of your own: 

 NoveList (AKA Novelist Plus) 

  • A searchable database of fiction and non-fiction books
  • Each title will display any reviews about that book, as well as read-a-likes / similar books
  • You can search by title, author, or even subject
  • Recommended reading lists by subject are listed on the starting page
  • Useful if you are looking for non-fiction books on a particular topic, or wanting a good novel to refill your own creative well
  • You can also use it to find comp titles for a pitch or a query letter to an agent or an editor, or to use in a book description if you self-published
  • NoveList is available online at many public library websites

 In case you need more information check out this article at Reedsy’s blog: 

  WorldCat and Interlibrary Loans 

  • WorldCat is a global library catalog
  • Your own library very likely has a link to it on their website. You may have to search for “WorldCat” or “Interlibrary Loan”.
  • It allows you to request books and articles from other library systems, both other public libraries and college and universities
  • Interlibrary loan is the library term for borrowing books and requesting articles from other libraries.
  • Typically, a book request will take a few weeks
  • You will need to create an ILL account so that you can request items. Check with a local librarian if you have any questions.


  • Overdrive is a major provider of eBooks and audio books to libraries around the world
  • You can borrow and read eBooks on your smart phone, tablet, Kindle, even your computer
  • Overdrive books will likely be listed in your library’s online catalog, and there will be link that takes you to the separate Overdrive catalog
  • Libby is now a widely available app for smart phones and tablets, which Overdrive created for patrons as a “one-stop” search and borrow experience.  Search for an eBook or audio book, borrow the book in the app, and then read or listen to that book in the app. 
  • Note: eBooks borrowed for Kindle work differently. Check with your local librarian for details
  • If you need help with this service, I recommend scheduling a visit to the library to have a staff member walk you through the process of searching and borrowing eBooks

Online Databases 

A host of electronic databases are available for libraries to subscribe to, and thus give librarians and patrons alike access. Budgets will determine which ones a library might be able to provide access to. Gale Databases are one of the most widely available, covering a host of topics from Academic articles to Health, Law, History, Science etc. You’ll need your library card to access them. 


I hope these tips come in handy. What library tips do you have to share? 

The Perils of Internet Information

We all know that Bogart never said, “Play it again, Sam.” That mangled quote, which Woody Allen famously used in his stage play (and later movie) came from Casablanca,where Bogart’s character actually has this exchange with Dooley Wilson (as Sam):
Rick: You know what I want to hear.

Sam: No, I don’t.

Rick: You played it for her, you can play it for me!

Sam: Well, I don’t think I can remember––

Rick: If she can stand it, I can! Play it!
Recently, I’ve seen another bastardized quotation zapping around the internet. It’s a quote attributed to Ernest Hemingway. As a Hemingway-phile, I was quite interested. The quote goes like this: “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
I was immediately suspicious. Something was rotten in the state of Bartlett, for it was the great sports writer Red Smith who said, “There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and just open a vein.” (There are some variations on this, but the source is clear. You can read more here.)
This quote, in fact, became the basis of a book on writing, Just Open a Vein by William Brohaugh (Writer’s Digest Books, 1987). The Red Smith quote, with attribution, was printed right on the cover.

So how did these words get into Ernest Hemingway’s mouth, and thence to the wide world of the internet?
A TV writer did it, that’s how! As I investigated this further I came across an EW article from May 28, 2012, by Ken Tucker. It was a review of an HBO movie about Hemingway and his third wife, Martha Gellhorn. Tucker writes:
There’s a lot of dialogue that sounds as studied as Hemingway must have intended it to sound as he declaimed it (“Let me tell you about writers — the best ones are all liars”) and stuff that’s almost certainly cobbled together from various sources. (I was particularly amused when a negative review of the movie today in The New York Times made a point of ridiculing one Hemingway line — “There’s nothing to writing, Gellhorn — all you do is sit down to your typewriter and bleed” — but failed to realize it most likely derived from a New York Times sportswriter Red Smith’s wry dictum, “Writing it easy; all you have to do is open a vein and bleed.”)
So there you have it. It seemed like a good line to give to Hemingway in a biopic. But there’s another problem with having him say this (besides the fact that he never said it). The problem is he never would have said it!
Because Hemingway drafted in longhand, and he drafted standing up! He stood because of injuries sustained during his service in World War I. It was easier on him to be on his feet.
He usually only got to a max of 500 words in a single day, because he was famously trying to write “one true sentence” followed by another, and so on. (NOTE: There’s a famous author photo of Hemingway at a typewriter for the back cover of For Whom the Bell Tolls. But this was a staged photo to emphasize the Hemingway field reporter mythos).
So let’s be clear, when doing the hard work (the “bleeding”) of a first draft, Hemingway:
Did not sit.
Did not use a typewriter.
As his grandson, Sean Hemingway, once explained: “Hemingway wrote his first drafts in longhand, and you do not have to be a handwriting analyst from the FBI to appreciate his bold, fluid penmanship. Despite the author’s own comments in the book about the difficulty of the writing process and the need for revisions, many of his first drafts are remarkably clean, poignant testaments to his continued abilities as a writer later in life.”
And by the way, Hemingway never employed a secretary named Sam. Thus, he never, ever said, “Type it again, Sam.”
So here’s one instance where a reliance on what’s floating around the internet becomes a virus of error.
The irony, of course, is that I used the internet to do the research to get to the bottom of this. But this is the age we live in!
So what erroneous information have you come across in your internet surfing? What checks and balances do you use in your own research?  

You might never upload a photo to Facebook again

I’m a heavy Internet user, so I jumped at a chance last week to attend a Webinar (that’s a Web seminar, for you non-heavy users). Its purpose was to teach investigators how to use online techniques to research suspects, gang members, deadbeat parents, etc.

I learned that it’s possible to use online techniques to find out information about almost anyone. Here are a few of the tips we heard:

Look at pictures that are posted by your suspect on social media sites (such as Facebook), and study the backgrounds of the pictures. Team logos, landmarks, or other things in the pictures can indicate where your subject is living. You might see drugs in the background, worth noting if you’re trying to establish drug-related connections.

Note any other people in your subject’s photos. That’s one way to discover gang associations or other criminal connections. Even if your subject keeps most of his uploaded information private, you might be able to find out information from his friends’ postings.

We were advised to always capture information as soon as we find it (Snagit was a recommended tool for screen captures), because the Internet constantly changes.

We learned how to refine Google searches on the web to focus and narrow down results. Using boolean operators to do searches, trying different spellings and search engines, and using cache to get archived information were some of the suggestions.

Some of the techniques will come in handy for my writing. One thing is certain–going forward, I’ll be much more selective when I upload personal information and photos. And I’m also happy that I use a pen name for my writing–there’s less surfacing of personal data that way.

Do you have any favorite search tricks or online research techniques? Are there any rules that you follow for uploading personal information online?