Monday, April 19, 2021

My Local Public Library Has Only Curbside Service--How I Learned to Browse Online

Ever since I could read, one of my favorite pastimes has been reading, and closely associated with that has been the happy pursuit of browsing for something interesting to read. With the arrival of the current coronavirus pandemic, businesses and governmental agencies have adapted to the necessary medical protocols, our friendly public library among them. Reducing its service to online catalog book checkout and curbside delivery is the current service available to my town's bibliophiles. 

The library has had an online catalog for a long time, one which I used occasionally to determine if a particular book or author was available at the library. Almost always, however, I used the in-library computers for a quick search. "Does the library have Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan of the Apes," I'd ask myself, for instance, and a quick check of the computerized "card catalog" would determine the availability of the novel--assuming that I just didn't walk over to the "B" section in fiction and do an eyeball check myself.

I had never actually browsed with the catalog, though, and that is something I learned to do with the advent of the pandemic. First I had to flounder around a bit and remember my sign in and password. Having done that, I then had to learn how to use the catalog's search functions. I discovered that I could look for more than a specific title or author. I could reference also according to subject, for instance adding the search words "ocean," "historical," and "women." I could also search for books that were part of a series. 

A fun activity I began with my wife was to find books for her to read. I had done this some prior to the pandemic, cruising the stacks and pulling a few books I thought she'd like. Now I had to learn how to do this via the computer catalog. My wife was raised by the ocean, which she misses here in Iowa, so that has always been a "go-to" subject for books. She also enjoys novels with strong female protagonists, although gender is not a deal-breaker. Finally, we've discovered that we both enjoy mysteries and detective novels. 

In addition to the library, we have also come to rely on online book buying, both used and new books. We've also utilized my Kindle a bit for ebooks when necessary, although we still enjoy reading hands-on paper books more. The process that has evolved is that I discover an author--and perhaps a series by that author--and then browse the library catalog to determine if the library has that author's books. Then we'll fill in any books missing from a series or from that author's backlist by purchasing online. 

One good example of this process is books by the author Anna Lee Huber. The library catalog displayed as a new book A Pretty Deceit, the fourth book in Huber's Verity Kent mystery series. I researched the author and discovered she also writes a Lady Darby mystery series. I bought the first books in both series as samplers. My wife and I both enjoyed them, and we have purchased and read the series, which included our reading only one of the books from the library.

Searching for novels that have ocean settings, I discovered the novels of Mary Alice Monroe. My wife has really enjoyed her novels, and we've been able to check out a number of her novels from the library, filling in as needed by online purchases. Monroe has a number of stand-alone novels and also has written books for two series, a Lowcountry Summer trilogy and the Beach House series. My wife's read all her novels, and although I've read only one of these novels, I'll probably read more in the future.

I enjoy searching for possible books for my wife Sandy, and it's great fun to discover an author that she really enjoys. Because I'm retired and she's still running her business, it's easier for me to carve out some browsing time. Besides, as a lifelong reader, a writer, and a retired language arts teacher, it's great fun to browse the stacks, even if I have to do it virtually. It has also been a source of enjoyment for Sandy and me to read the same books and then to talk about them. Sharing our enjoyment of reading is a simple joy, which is especially pleasurable in our sometimes complicated world. We have tried a few authors that we aren't crazy about, but even those discussions are a source of pleasure and sharing. 

If you haven't interacted with your local library's online catalog, I suggest you try it out. I think my town's public library has done a great job of dealing with the dangers of the pandemic while still working to meet the needs of its patrons. Curbside service--actually, I'm feeling a bit spoiled!



  1. Our libraries just opened back up over the last couple of weeks. I learned how to enjoy audiobooks during the pandemic, and came to rely on checking out e-books instead of spending money with Amazon. I have a lengthy list on the library website, and it's a nice surprise when a book I got on the waiting list for months prior becomes available. It's almost like a surprise gift of the book - with no money changing hands.

    1. I've really been enjoying using the online card catalog for the library, even though the library has recently opened its doors again.