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Introduction to PAC & ACCD Libraries

If you are in the vicinity of Palo Alto College (PAC), or of any of the other libraries in the Alamo Community College District (ACCD), you should visit one of these libraries. (Please come to the PAC library and I will give you a personal tour... Call me ahead to make sure I will be here). Your library priveleges are good at all ACCD campuses. If this is not possible, visit an academic library near you. Walk through and identify the following elements:

Tour of the library...

Online catalog

The catalog of resources in the library used to consist typed cards. This system was very labor intensive for both the librarians and the users. Now almost all library catalogs are found online. Use of the computer allows much easier and more powerful searching. The instructions are normally right on the screen. Try it out and see how you do!

Circulation desk

The circulation desk is normally found near the entrance to the library because it is the place where you check materials in and out. It is often also the beginning place for asking questions, seeking reserve materials, and getting change.

Reference desk

Reference desks are to be found in almost all libraries. They will differ, however, in what they do. Some perform very similarly to public libraries, giving you answers to questions. Many academic reference desks, however, are there to TEACH YOU how to do research. The librarians will not do the work for you. They are invaluable teachers, however, so don't be shy about asking for help.

Print indexes

Print indexes have a long history and are still extremely valuable tools. They are normally in the reference section of the library and are divided by subject areas. We shall discuss them in much more detail later, but for now go through the section, see what is available, and open a few volumes and see what is inside.

Electronic indexes

The location of electronic indexes can vary appreciable from library to library. You will have to ask the reference librarian, probably, to ascertain their location. There are many types of electronic indexes: free standing, CD-ROM, Web-based. A short discussion with the reference librarian should give you an overview of what is available in any particular library.

Leisure reading area

Not all academic libraries contain a leisure reading area. In the PAC library the leisure reading area contains recent newspapers, and the latest edition of each magazine and journal that we carry. Paperback books are also found in this area.


The "reserve collection" is normally found behind the circulation desk. Although not true at PAC, many libraries require you to stay in a particular area or room while using reserve materials.

The purpose of a reserve system is to allow faculty to place materials--either their own materials, or library materials which might otherwise get checked out and be inaccessible to class members--on reserve so that they are available to all class members for specified periods of time.

Interlibrary loan

If you are unable to access material in the library you are using, and cannot find it in a library within driving distance, you may wish to use interlibrary loan. This is a service offered usually to students or members of the library. It may be free (like at PAC) or there may be a charge for postage and handling. The purpose of interlibrary loan is to find specific materials at other libraries and borrow them for you. This is usually done through the mails and can be time consuming. You should be working well in advance of any deadlines if you use this service.

List of periodicals holdings

Somewhere the library will have a list of the magazines and journals to which it subscribes. At PAC we have copies of a bound book, called PERIODICAL HOLDINGS, which lists all the titles in alphabetical order, and tells you whether each title can be found in paper, microform, or online.

Location of atlases

Atlases may be in their proper classification area. Or, they may be in a separate room or collection like reference materials.

Location of dictionaries

Dictionaries, like atlases, will probably be in their classification area. But some or all may also be separated in a special area.

Microform area

Because microforms take up less space they are often used to store newspapers, government documents, ERIC materials, and many other types of resources. Many libraries have a separate area or even room or entire floor for microform storage and access machines.

Union lists

Many libraries have undertaken a cooperative effort to list which libraries carry which magazine and journal titles. In San Antonio, for instance, the CORAL group issues such a list. That list will be very useful to you at some point.


In both the LCC (Library of Congress Classification--this is what PAC uses) and Dewey classification systems encyclopedias are near the beginning of the collection. If the reference collection is separated, however, they may be in another location.

You will probably also want to locate the following facilities for your own convenience:


Stacks is the word used by librarians to refer to the bookshelves where the materials are stored. These used to be "closed," but are now open, meaning that library users are allowed to enter them and look at the books.

Palo Alto College's library stacks are somewhat unique in that they are "integrated." This means that all materials are placed on the shelves together. There is no separate reference collection, or literature collection. If you look up "fish," for instance, and go to the correct call number in the stacks, you will find all the books on fish on the shelf, including government documents, pamphlets, software, and other materials. The only exception is children's materials, which are to be found in the Children's Library.

NEXT: Library Organization and Terminology

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Please send comments to: Colby Glass, MLIS

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