Library tips

Photo by Carolyne Kroeker

If you’re a new student, you’re probably overwhelmed by all the fees you’ve just paid. Your tuition is by far the largest of these, but don’t be deceived: the most valuable, in terms of dollars per unit of education, is the $40 library fee.

The University of Manitoba offers an extensive system of libraries to students, faculty, staff, and community members. As a U of M student, everything from scientific journals and volumes of German literary criticism to children’s books and Metallica albums is freely available to you. I urge you to learn how the system works and use it to the fullest extent in order to learn as much as you can during your time here.

In that spirit, I’d like to provide some information about the libraries and tips on how to make the most out of them.

Collections and databases

The U of M library system consists of 10 branches on the Fort Garry campus, with nine health sciences libraries spread across the Bannatyne campus and Winnipeg’s hospitals. The central branch is the Elizabeth Dafoe library. The smaller Fort Garry libraries are mostly subject-specific branches – such as the music, management, and engineering libraries.

Current U of M students can take out 200 regular items at a time, and can place hold requests on up to 25 items at a time. Ordinary loan periods for books are till the end of the semester, meaning that for most items there are three due dates a year (and you can renew up to three times).

Some items, such as CDs, DVDs, and journals, have shorter loan periods. Items that have been placed on reserve by faculty or staff are kept behind the desk and usually have very short loan periods, sometimes on an hourly basis.

In addition to the physical items, the library subscribes to a large number of online journals and databases. These vary from collections of academic journal articles to archives to online specialist encyclopedias. As a student, you can access most of these databases remotely from your own computer, and it’s worth your time to get to know the ones in your subject area.

Fines and fees

Most items from the library do not ordinarily carry late fees. This means that if you are a few days late in returning your books at the end of term, you will not be charged for them. However, if you keep an item so long overdue that it’s declared lost, a fee will be charged to your account. This fee is waived when you bring the item back – as long as you do so within a reasonable amount of time.

Reserve items are the only ones that usually carry late fees – in some cases hourly late fees, which can be quite expensive, so it is unwise to keep a reserve item overdue. Pieces of equipment that need to be signed out, such as headphones or USB drives, are treated like reserve items.

If a normal item that is signed out to you is requested by another patron, you have a week to return it to the library. After that, you are charged a late fee.

For the most part the system is forgiving and you won’t be charged late fees unless you keep items months overdue or inconvenience other patrons by keeping reserve items or items they’ve requested. But everyone makes mistakes. What do you do when your account is blocked due to a large fee?

First of all, don’t panic. Return the overdue items as soon as possible. Lost item fees will be waived shortly after you return the items. Overdue fines on reserve and requested items will not be waived, but at least they won’t grow any bigger.

Once you’ve returned the overdue items, speak to a library staff member to confirm the status of your account.

Finding things

The U of M libraries use the Library of Congress classification system. If you’re familiar with the Dewey decimal system, used by the Winnipeg Public Library and many high school libraries, you may need time to adjust.

Generally, if you know the title of the item you are looking for, it is best to use the online catalogue search for the title and author. Find the item’s call number (a combination of letters and numbers that looks something like this: “BR 100 K475 2013”) and the library branch that holds it, and go look for it in the stacks at the appropriate library. Call numbers are arranged in alphanumeric order on the shelves.

You can also request the item online and have it delivered to the branch of your choice, but I recommend you don’t do this until you’re already well acquainted with the stacks.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for books on a specific topic (e.g. “ancient Rome”), it’s best to search online for that topic or keywords related to it instead. Find the general call number range where these books can be found – typically you want the first set of letters and numbers (“DG 78”). Then go to that area in the stacks and look around for titles that jump out at you.

Looking at the shelf in person is an intuitive process that is likely to produce more surprising and interesting results than searching online, though searching online is much faster if you know what you’re looking for.

If you’re looking for journal articles or other items that are typically accessed online, you may not see them in an ordinary catalogue search. Often you can find these items by typing keywords into the One Stop Search field on the libraries homepage. Some results will have a yellow “Get it @ UML” button on them. Click this button to see how to get access to the item.

Needless to say, if you ever have difficulty finding an item, you can ask any librarian or library staff member for help. If you’re off campus or just feeling shy, you can ask questions anonymously through a live chat service: just click on “ask a librarian” on the libraries homepage during business hours.

Document delivery

The U of M libraries boast a vast collection of books, journals, and other items, but they don’t have everything. Can’t find what you’re looking for? Why not order it in from another library? Thanks to interlibrary loan agreements, you can order almost any item as long as it exists in a library somewhere.

In my experience, the U of M libraries have copies of almost all the standard readings in just about every subject (though there are holes, of course). But once you get into more specialized subfields, you’re more likely to run into items that U of M doesn’t have, and that are difficult to get ahold of otherwise.

For me, it was clarinet scores. When I wanted a copy of Arnold Bax’s clarinet sonata or of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s quintet – obscure pieces, but by no means unheard of – the U of M music library didn’t have them. Luckily, other libraries in Canada did, and through document delivery I was able to get copies of these scores sent to me.

To request an item through document delivery, click the “Document delivery” link on the U of M libraries homepage. Fill in the patron request form as best you’re able – a good source for information about many items is WorldCat.org.