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A Beginners Guide to the University Library

Writing.ie | Resources | Better Non-Fiction Guides | Researching Non-Fiction

Barry Houlihan

It is a completely new departure. You have spent the previous six years working towards getting here and most definitely a hellish last few months; but you made it. You are now in college! As an overload of information, of new faces, new places and new responsibilities come pouring at you, it really is a time to savour – your reward for enduring and beating the points system and earning your place in your chosen course. One of the biggest changes you will find at third-level comes at assignment-time – the onus is on you and you alone to source the information and material you will need to complete course-work and yes, also, unfortunately, more exams. There is a place on campus however, that you may have bypassed for the first few weeks of your college life. You have heard of it but are maybe unsure of how to approach it, you know it is there but are just a little cautious of where to go once in there: The College Library. Over the coming years of your undergraduate career, the Library will invariably be where you spend a major chunk of you time, frantically looking for inspiration for that essay due next week. If you think of the library as being that someone you ring when looking for a shoulder to cry on when in need, someone to turn to for a quiet space during exam-time or indeed to vent when that person in your class always seems to get that A with seemingly little effort, then you will both get along just fine. Coming into a third-level university library can be at first a daunting experience. Where exactly do you begin? University libraries have never before been packed with so much information and with online access to near endless databases and resources; your worry may at first seem justified. However, once you get to grips with what your library has to offer you, you will soon realise that it will make your college experience so much easier. All university libraries offer orientation tours, guided by staff that know the different floors and shelves inside out. The tours may cut a little into your first week of socialising but getting that head-start is a huge advantage. The library tour can be dictated by your course group so you will be guided around the areas relevant to you and your course. Check out the Archives and Special Collections section of your library. These services offer supervised access and dedicated help in using the unique manuscript sources held by the University. They will be of particular interest and use to students of Humanities, Science, Business, Engineering and generally all students. These resources are usually unique to the university and their use in assignments will go a long way to pushing up grades. Research and referencing of primary sources is a sure way to compliment your work. All libraries are working on improving their environment and access. Opening hours often run late into the evenings and they also open across weekends to allow more relaxed and planned out study. It is a given that it will be quieter at weekends so if you can, make use of these extended opening hours. Technological aides such as electronic self-checking and automatic book return also make your visit run a lot more smoothly. Online access to material is where University libraries can play a huge part in your work. They will have subscriptions to hundreds if not thousands of online journals and article databases from around the world. These are often available off campus too, through the campus network, so no battling with classmates for the last copies. Get to know the likes of JSTOR, Project Muse and Pro-Quest to name but a few. Also, online access to Irish and International newspaper archives will be available. Finally, if there is any one thing that will make your use of the library easier, it is as simple as this: talk to your librarian. They are there to help and really do want to help. Instead of pacing up and down aisle after aisle looking for one particular book that you know half the title of but are unsure who wrote it, go and talk to those who know the library and are waiting to hear from you. If even after all that you manage to have a spare hour or two away from the library then to all students, and in particular to the incumbent first years, Enjoy College! Do’s and Don’ts of using your University Library: Do:

  • Get to know your library early, it will make things easier in the long run
  • Learn what sections are relevant to you; you don’t need to know it all!
  • Talk with the Librarians, they will have focused knowledge on your study area
  • Get to know what Archives and Special Collections has to offer you
  • Use the library as a study space, you can get so much done there
  • Make use of the online resources


  • Leave it until the last minute to try use the Library, panic and stress won’t help!
  • Run up fines. By fourth year non-payment can affect final graduation. It has happened
  • Use the library as a social area, those around will not thank you
  • Damage books and sources, others will need them after you
  • Hog the seats. If you leave take your belongings. At exam time, you’ll find out why!

About the author

(c) Barry Houlahan, September 2011

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