A Handy Guide To Academic Libraries For New Students

For many students, autumn means getting back to late nights, lecture halls, and studying. Unlike public libraries, academic libraries on university and college campus tend to have a larger nonfiction collection. Depending on your university, there may even be several different libraries, focused on different subjects. Whether you  are a new college student or a returning student, this guide to academic libraries can help you make the most of your time in the library and find the materials you need to help you succeed!

Talk to the Staff

Librarians and library staff are there to help you! No question is too small or too big. Finding the answer is part of their job. If you’re not used to using a library or call numbers, talk to a staff member. They can help show you around. Need to learn how to use the catalogue? Ask a staff member. Some schools offer tutoring and basic computer classes through their libraries. Academic librarians are part of school faculty, and they care about your success, too.

Research Databases

Academic journals are not generally available to the general public, but through your university or college, you should be able to access a wide variety of journals, digital encyclopedias, and research databases. These are valuable resources that will save you time combing thorough paywalls and basic search engines. Ask a librarian about what databases are available through your institution.


Some academic libraries have “library use” copies of textbooks. While not a permanent solution, this is a great way to bridge the gap if you are sharing a textbook, waiting for a book order to come in, or need an extra book for study group. Some professors will also provide books for their classes to a special collection that you can check out for just a few days. Check the library catalogue for your required reading books in the fiction section and some non-traditional textbooks may be available in the nonfiction section.

Reference Books

Similar to library use only textbooks, most reference books cannot be checked out of the library. Reference books are usually things like glossaries, maps, and encyclopedias, but can also include school yearbooks, oversized books, and historical books. These books can be helpful for research, so plan accordingly when you need to use one.


Journals are kind of like magazines, but feature articles over advertisement. Most academic libraries subscribe to at least a few and keep a stock of them in their collection. There are journals in almost every field: science, art, literature, education, etc. Journals cannot always be checked out of the library, but some of the best writing in your field may be hiding in these little gems.

Interlibrary Loan

Having the right book for your research paper is imperative, but what if your university library doesn’t have it? That’s where interlibrary loans come in. If your college or university is part of a system, this may be easier, but most of the time you can borrow the book you need from another school. You’ll need to fill out a request, either online or in person, and a librarian can arrange it for you.


Although it may seem like a relic of the past, microfiche is still alive and well, especially in academic libraries. To look up older journal and newspaper articles, you’ll need to use microfiche. Microfiche is a thin film that requires a special magnified reader that looks like a combination of an old computer and a microscope.

YA and Juvenile Collection

Need a brain break and just want to read something for fun? Most academic libraries have a juvenile collection for their elementary education department, but the rest of the student body can check those books out too. Your childhood favorites will be waiting alongside new classics, perfect for a cozy reading night or that babysitting job you picked up.

In addition to a great nonfiction collection for all your research needs, most university libraries also have fiction collections, so read away (during your breaks of course!). It may be a bit old fashioned now, but the DVD section is a great place to look for cheap group entertainment. Academic libraries offer so much to your campus, so be sure to sign up for your student library card this year!

Want more library content? Visit our library archives  and check out what it was like to work as a circulation assistant at a university academic library.