Thursday, July 30, 2009

Weekly Ode to the New York Public Library, the second

(Note: scroll down for this week's tips--how to use the NYPL to save on college textbooks)

This week’s Ode to the NYPL takes the form of a letter. A couple of months ago the city government was threatening to cut contributions to the library system, which would have forced the closure of some branches for 1 or 2 days per week. The NYPL launched a massive letter-writing and fundraising campaign to oppose these budget cuts.

I contributed by writing to Bloomberg and to my district representative. I sent the following letter:

Dear Mayor Bloomberg,

The library has been my second home since I was a little girl. My summer vacations were spent in the children's section of the Donnell library, where I read Nancy Drew books there for hours on end. Even during college, I continued to use the NYPL hold system to find books not available at the Columbia or Barnard libraries.

A few months ago I lost my job. While living on unemployment income there was no way I could buy books either for entertainment, or to help me in my job search (books like What Color is Your Parachute or 48 Days to the Work You Love). Thankfully I could get them through the NYPL. I would also go to my local public library just to get out of the house.

I recently found a great new job but I know that hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers like me still need the library. During the Great Depression, MORE resources were directed to the NYPL system, not fewer. Extra hours and services helped people to educate themselves, find work, get free entertainment, and learn how to survive on less. Out of the Depression was born what we call the Greatest Generation--and I think we should learn from their example.

As one of the millions of library users and as one of your constituents, I urge you to PLEASE fight the proposed budget cuts and help keep our libraries open.

Carolyn O’Neil

This week’s tip is for the college students out there: USE THE NYPL TO SAVE ON TEXTBOOKS! I was an English major, so I was in a perfect position to use this strategy. Here’s what I did:

I sat down in front of my laptop with a list of the books I would need in the next 2 months. I would look up each book on Amazon to identify the correct version of the book—using publisher, publication date, and number of pages. From Amazon I could see an image of that version’s cover and also get the appropriate ISBN.

Then I’d look up the book on LEO, the NYPL database. If there were multiple versions I would go by the book cover first, then open up the item to confirm the other information. Then I would select “Place a Hold” and have the right book sent to the branch nearest my dorm. Be sure to check whether any copies are available, to get a sense of how soon you will get your book. If there are copies “Checked In” at any branch, then you will likely get it within 3-4 business days. If there are other holds on the book, compare the due dates to the number of holds and give it your best guess.

And that’s it! I did this for dozens of my books, and saved the cost of buying them. Of course if you do this you had BETTER NOT write or make notes in the book, but I consider that a sacrilege, anyway. This strategy takes a bit of work but sometimes, you just don’t have the money for all those books. This can be a lifesaver.

A final quick note: sometimes it wasn’t possible to get the same version of the book. Obviously, in a small discussion class you simply have to have the right version. But a lot of my classes were mid-size (30-50 students) or larger lectures, and in those you can get by without it. Rather than following along while the professor reads a passage, just listen carefully. Elegant in its simplicity, isn’t it?

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