Thursday, 9 December 2010

Thrifty Thursday - Save £££ using a Library

I've been a bookworm ever since I learned to read. I've been a library user for almost as long. Aged 10, I was given special permission to use the adult library because I'd read everything in the children's section. I cried when I realised there were more books in the world than I would ever be able to read.

Yate Library, South Gloucestershire

My love for books carries over to my family history research - they are amongst my most valuable sources of information. Since Cyndi Howells first taught me how to do well targeted searches using Google, I have regularly trawled Google Books for family information. I rarely come away empty handed. I found an article about a British ancestor's unlicensed lunatic asylum in a German psychiatry magazine and have traced the career of a 19th century King's Messenger entirely through books found online. I even found The Boating Man's Vade Mecum, written by my husband's great grandfather, William Winn.

For books still in copyright, Google Books only provides a snippet view - or sometimes no preview at all. This can be very frustrating. No-one wants to buy an expensive book just to obtain the nugget of genealogy information contained in a footnote on page 169. Fortunately, there is no need to do so, if you belong to a library.

Libraries West Logo

When I find a book of interest, my first stop is the website of my local library consortium - Libraries West. Using their online catalogue, I can search for the book in over 100 libraries in a region extending from the Cotswolds to Exmoor, including major public libraries in the cities of Bath and Bristol. Obscure books can be found in the most unlikely places. I located a book about an East India Company family which had been placed into storage by the Somerset County Library service - it had last been borrowed in the 1960s. A book about London's worst Victorian slum was gathering dust on the sleepy shelves of a library in a Gloucestershire market town.

The Blackest Streets by Sarah Wise

If I find the book in the Libraries West catalogue, I can reserve it for collection at my local library, 100 yards from my front door, for the princely sum of 90p. If I do not find it, all is not lost. I next turn to WorldCat to locate the nearest library with a copy. WorldCat covers institutional libraries as well as the public library service. I recently found a rare book very close to my home in the library of my old alma mater, Bristol University. Armed with details of the holding library, and the call number of the book I require, I go back to the Libraries West website and put in a request for an inter-library loan. The fee for this service is higher, at £2.20 per book, but still much cheaper than buying my own copy - cheaper even than the postage on my own copy.

And inter-library loans are not restricted to published books. In my time I have borrowed a typed manuscript from a library in the Orkneys and even borrowed microfilm copies of an ancestor's journals from the Hudson's Bay Company Archives in Winnipeg, Canada. For £2.20, that has to be the bargain of a lifetime.


  1. Caroline - Great post! As a librarian and a genealogist I am a major library user. I hate spending $$$ when I can get something for free. I'm also trying to eliminate clutter in my life, and using the library is a great way to avoid buying books or other materials that I only use once in a while.

    Thanks for the post.

  2. Thank you, Cynthia. I know what you mean about the clutter. I had a huge clear out a couple of years back and donated a lot of my old genealogy books and magazines to a local family history group.

  3. What a great post! I too work at a library, and also travel to libraries all over Northern Ohio...and once in awhile out of many resources are unique to the individual libraries. They are a wonderful resource for family history researchers.