How to Use an English Library

Posted by: Tara Benwell
Let the library be your language partner in learning English.

Are you living in a foreign country? The local library can be your best friend. Even if you are just visiting (and can’t get a card), be sure to visit the library at least once a week! Make it a ritual and your English will improve. That’s a promise!

What does the library have for English learners?
Free Internet access
English books at all levels
English magazines
English audio books
English videos for adults and kids
FREE or reasonably priced English classes
Story hour and other FREE programs

How to get a Library Card
Most libraries will let you get a library card if you have an address in that city.

1. Bring your proof of address (a phone bill, a rental lease)
2. Bring two pieces of photo ID (e.g. a passport and driver’s license)
3. Go to the front desk. Say to the librarian: “I’d like to get a library card.”

Ask about the Rules
Avoid paying fines. Many people quit going to the library because they owe money. Ask about the borrowing rules. If you owe money, just pay it. It’s probably not that much. Think of your fine as a donation to a worthy cause. Here are some questions to ask:

1. How long can I keep books out?
2. How long can I keep movies out?
3. How long can I keep audio books out?
4. How many books can I check out on one subject?
5. What are the late fees?
6. Where do I pick up books I have on hold? (There may be a fine if you don’t pick these up.)
7. Can I borrow digital books? (If you have an e-reading device.)
8. Can I borrow books from other branches? (inter-library loans)

Ask about the Sections you Need
1. Where are the children’s easy readers? (Great for English learners. Don’t feel ashamed. Check them out!)
2. Where are the board books? (Baby books with hard covers. Great for reading to your kids. Understand the words from the pictures.)
3. Where are the exam prep materials? (such as TOEFL or TOEIC practice)
4. Where is the reference section? (dictionaries etc.)
5. Where are the children’s audio books? (great for listening practice)
6. Where are the large print books?
7. Where are the adult literacy books? (can be useful for English as a second language learners)
8. Where is the non-fiction section?
9. Do you have any graded readers? (Easy versions of classic books.)

Ask about the Dewey Decimal System
1. Ask a librarian to explain the number system.
2. Memorize the numbers of the section you frequent (e.g. 800s for literature)

Ask how to Log In to the Internet

1. Can you help me get online?
2. How long can I use the Internet?

Ask how to use the Online Catalogue (index of resources on the computer)

1. Can you show me how to search for books?
2. Can you show me how to access my account? (Usually you need your card # plus a PIN.)
3. Can you show me how to reserve a book?

Library Words
branch: one library building out of many in a city or region
main branch: the central or largest library in a city or region
fiction: books and materials based on stories that aren’t true
non-fiction: books and materials based on true stories or information
circulation desk: the place where you check out books
check out: to borrow books with your library card
librarian: a person who works in a library
reference section: a section full of dictionaries, encyclopedias, and other materials
borrow: to take an item home for a set amount of time
fines or fees: money you owe due to damage, lateness, or lost materials
log in: to enter password and be taken online
Dewey Decimal system: the ordering system in a library that makes it easy to find books (e.g. 800s for literature)
e-books: books you download and read on your electronic device
audio books: books on tape or CD
PIN: personal identification number

Library Challenge: If you live in an English speaking country, please go to the library this week. Come back and describe your experience. Did you get a library card? Did you take out any books or movies? What did you do online? If you don’t live in an English speaking country, visit the English section of your library!

Comment: What’s your favourite English book and why? Include the full title and author’s name.

Written by Tara Benwell for EnglishClub | October 2010
Tara Benwell is a Canadian freelance writer and editor who specializes in materials and articles for the ELT industry.


Leave a comment