As I mentioned in my first post to this blog, I work in a public library. Nothing makes me more sad than a patron who has been coming to the library for years, yet doesn't know about some key features of the library that can really help them. These hints I'm sharing pretty much go for anyone, regardless of ability, but there are also a few hints here that can help those with disabilities.
So what are a few things you can do to get the most out of your local public library?
Many, many people I know fall into the trap of looking up a book on their local library's catalog, not being able to find it and then thinking they have to buy it. Not only can you request that the library buy it (if you want to read it, chances are other people do too), you can ask about what's called "interlibrary loan." An ILL puts out a request from your library to other libraries in the country, who can then send the book to your library for you to pick up. Sometimes it can be slow - dependent on the speed of processing and shipping your request - but it saves you money in the end. You will probably need to ask your library staff in person or over the phone to place the request for you.
Overdrive - and other media sites
My particular library belongs to the Greater Phoenix Digital Library, powered by Overdrive. If your library is one of the many who use Overdrive you have access to movies, audiobooks, ebooks and music through their system. All you need is your library card. Overdrive's media console, the software you download to your computer to access the files from Overdrive, does have accessibility options. Unfortunately I have yet to find an "eFlick" that says it has subtitles. I haven't tried to watch any, so I don't know if it is an option.
The databases a library subscribes to can fluctuate over time, depending on their funding and other issues, so it's always good to take a look at what your library has on offer. I especially love the databases like MasterFILE. If you are looking for that particular article from Time or National Geographic from July 2004, you can find it - without rooting in a dusty pile of magazines, and in convenient digital form. If you need to fix your car and don't have your Hanes manual you can check out repair databases like the Auto Repair Reference Center. If you need a legal document, the text of an obscure law, some 1910 census records or where to get your flu shot, it is all here - not just for academic papers at all.
Talk to the staff
The staff of libraries can't know what their patrons want, beyond educated guesses, unless their patrons talk to them. Communication that conveys what patrons want takes many forms in libraries - drive-by complaints at the desk, the number of holds on a certain book, the wait line for the computers, the number of people signed up for a particular program. But by far the most effective communication is simply finding a staff member and letting them know what you want. If your library is showing movies, you can ask that they have a showing with subtitles on. If your library is having a program you can ask if they have looked into having their conference room looped. By making yourself a representative of what you want from your community you are helping to shape it.
Ask about programs
Sometimes library programs are inadequately advertised or communicated to the public. It depends on the library's resources and their own marketing strategies. If you've heard about a series of programs or that your friend's library has computer classes, don't assume that since you haven't heard about it, your library must not have anything like it. I like to tell people about upcoming programs and if I'm hearing from multiple people that they'd like a certain type of program, I will pass it on to those who make those decisions.
Instead of simply being disappointed when you find out your library isn't having, say, a NaNoWriMo group or a book club right now, ask how you can get involved or pass your thoughts along. Write your name and phone number or e-mail address down along with what you want to see and give it to the person at the desk, or ask if the person in charge of your library's programming has a card you can take with you. Sometimes all it takes is the right person willing to move a project along to get things started.
Check out the book sale
My particular library has an ongoing booksale, selling weeded books, donations we don't have a use for and other items. It is extremely popular. Some libraries have booksales every season or even just every year, but the savings on the books in these sales are simply crazy. If you are homeschooling, researching, collecting or interested in any subject, the book sale is likely to have something for you and it will probably be dirt cheap. Keep an eye out for upcoming library booksales or check out your library's book store if they have one.