If you haven’t visited a library website recently, you may be surprised to learn there are a wealth of free reference sources and research tools which you may be able to access from the comfort of your home, any time of the day or night.
If you have a library card, many public library systems give you free access to a wide range of electronic resources through their websites, including subscription databases, reference books, newspapers, magazines, and journals. For example, the Seattle Public Library offers free access to the Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford Reference Online (which allows you to search hundreds of Oxford University Press reference works in all subjects), the New York Times historical archive dating back to 1851, Britannica Online, and the AP Photo Archive, to name only a few. Many libraries also allow you to download digital audiobooks and ebooks to your home computer.
If you don’t have a library card, most libraries will allow you to use their onsite computers to access their electronic resources. This is true for many colleges and universities as well. You won’t be able to access their resources remotely unless you are a current student or faculty member, but if you visit their campus libraries you can use their public terminals. University libraries tend to have a far wider and deeper range of electronic resources than public libraries, so if you are doing serious research, it may well be worth the trip.
Many libraries throughout the world offer free online resources available to everyone, such as their own “best of the web” link collections. One of the most surprising free services offered by some libraries is “Ask the Librarian,” which allows you to ask research questions by email or live web chat. Look for terms like “Ask the Librarian” or “Chat with a Librarian” on a library website, or use a search engine to find one.
Rare book library websites offer extraordinary and unique digital collections, online exhibitions, virtual galleries and showcases, essays and articles, collection and research guides, and bibliographies. Some of the best include the Library of Congress, the New York Public Library, and the British Library, to name a few.
To find links to libraries around the world, check out Library Spot.