Make the Most of Online Library Resources

online libraryIt’s no secret that online students rely heavily on web-based resources to complete the tasks and assignments required in their courses. Libraries are making great contributions to the “any time, any place” convenience of online education, and serving on-campus students, as well. As a grad student, I was thrilled when I didn’t have to travel to the library building to sift through the stacks, make photocopies, find a place to park, etc.

Those were the early days of online databases, and so much more is available now, not only through your institution’s library system, but also from state and local libraries, government agencies, and open access initiatives. What are some of the best online libraries and how can they support your online learning?

Let’s take a closer look at a few of the latest digital collections and how you might use these resources to augment what is provided through your online college’s library. All of the items listed below are free to access and represent the range of products and services available.

Download eBooks and Audiobooks

Going to the library to find a book is a no-brainer, but what kinds of books will help you with your course work? Here are a few examples of what you can look for at your local library and beyond:

  • Fiction and Non-fiction: is a free, full-text collection that includes everything from classic literature to magazines and journals. Search by category, keyword, author, or year of publication.
  • Reference Materials: South Carolina’s state library system recently announced the addition of “more than 87,000 academic eBook titles to its online collection” through a subscription to ebrary’s Academic Complete. This is now available free to library cardholders.
  • Textbooks: While you may not be able to access the textbooks required in your courses, you will find other books that cover the topics you are studying. These can be a helpful supplement when faced with complex course topics and concepts. As a student I tried out multiple statistics texts, for example, until I found one that presented concepts in a way that was helpful to me. Search by your subject of interest.

Take some time to think about where and how you might prefer to access eBooks, whether it’s on your computer or mobile phone, and have an idea of the types of files that will be compatible. The Library of Congress provides a quick eBook guide to devices and formats, which may be a helpful component to add to your search.

Access Research and Writing Resources

When working on a class assignment, don’t stop with a basic Internet search. Improve the level of quality and volume of your results by using more specialized resources. Find out what access you have to various collections through your school’s library portal, then expand your search to include other online libraries to explore:

  • Academic Databases: The U.S. National Library of Medicine provides free access to PubMed Central, an online full-text collection of medical and science journals. A consortium of colleges and universities maintains the ipl2 (Internet public library) website, which features a collection of “information you can trust” organized by subject, such as Arts and Humanities and Law, Government and Political Science.
  • Special Collections: The Library of Congress provides a wide range of resources including a searchable E-Resources Online Catalog, as well as special digital collections and services that include print and multimedia materials.
  • Research Tools: Serendip-o-matic, an app from the new Digital Public Library of America, “is designed mostly for inspiration, search results are … suggestive, pointing you to materials you might not have discovered.” This is a great way to explore this unique network of libraries, archives, and museums.

Identify College and Career Resources

Libraries often have working relationships with local employment centers and universities, and can assist patrons who are looking for a job or interested in researching new career options. Check out the services provided at your local library both in the form of hands-on workshops and online resources that may include:

  • Job Search Guides: The guide from Free Library of Philadelphia, for example, includes a list of online job sites, links to downloadable worksheets for resume and cover letter writing, and information about scheduled workshops.
  • Skill Development Tutorials: The LearningExpress Library offers free access to tutorials, study guides, and practice tests for registered users. Whether you need help with a resume, want to refresh your math skills, or need to learn how to use basic software, these resources can help you get ready for your next job or prepare for your next online class.
  • Career Exploration Tools: Utah’s Online Library features a jobs and careers page that includes national, state, and local resources. In addition to general information related to different fields and industries, more detailed reports about the local economy and hiring trends are also available.

Try a One-to-One Consultation

As an online student, reference librarians should be high on your list of people to get to know. These professionals have expertise in conducting research, evaluating resources, and solving problems. Do you have questions about how to get started with a paper? Have you found a citation that is helpful but you need the full-text of the article? Reach out to a reference librarian at your school or local library.

In addition to scheduling an in-person appointment, you can also touch base online using programs like these:

  • Students and volunteers respond to research questions sent via the “Ask an ipl2 Librarian” online form.
  • Public and school libraries now often include an “Ask a Librarian” service, in which you interact via email, text message, instant messaging, or even a live chat through a system like Skype. Florida’s and the University of California San Diego’s Library illustrate the range of communication options you can expect.

Note that college or university libraries in your local community may also be public libraries. In these cases, you don’t need to be an enrolled student to access resources and services, or talk with a librarian, although you may be asked to sign-up for a library card.

Get Online

In addition to providing collections of items you can access online, what if you need an Internet connection? Public libraries can help with that, too, with free Wi-Fi and public computers. These locations can be a helpful backup when you travel or experience a break in Internet service at home, and need to continue participating in your online courses.

As a volunteer at my local library I’ve learned a lot about what is available and been surprised at the range of assistance that is provided, especially through library websites. If you want to find a library in your local area, try the Search for Public Libraries tool,,, or

Your libraries have resources waiting, but you’ve got to walk in the door, and now you can visit in person or online. How are you using the library to support your online courses? Share your favorite resources and materials with us here.

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Source: Inside Online Learning Blog