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Working in the library: How to work effectively in the library

Libraries are ideal for researching, reading and studying. Because working in a library is an important part of your studies in Germany, there are a few rules you should be aware of. A library introductory course can help you gain orientation.

by Dominik Brüggemann

In front of the library © Hagenguth/DAAD
In front of the library . © Hagenguth/DAAD

To begin with, it's a good idea to take advantage of the extensive information available at the library or on the Web. Normally, there are a large number of training and introductory courses to choose from. It's always worthwhile to join an introductory library tour, during which the library staff explains the most important procedures and answers your questions. For example, what system is used to categorise books? How do you search for books using the computer terminals? Why are some books only available for use at the library? How do you take out books that aren't publicly accessible? During these tours, you'll also receive information about due dates, copying and special fees.

Universities maintain numerous scientific databases to help people find the books they're looking for – which you'd have to pay for if you weren't a student. Libraries and university departments regularly offer courses in using subject-specific databases. This is where you can find out everything there is to know about the databases in your subject of study, learn how to get the most out of your search queries and how to access digital texts.

If all else fails, the library staff is always happy to assist you. "We help wherever we can. If someone has a problem with the search function on the computer, I show him how to use it. Or if they can't find a book, I accompany them into the stacks and help locate it," says Sabine Voigt at the library info desk in Dresden. If you're having problems, it's always best to speak with the staff, because most library users don't like to be bothered.

Working in the Library - How to

Rules in the library

People go to libraries because it offers them a quiet place to read, study and work. Loud conversations and phone calls are not permitted. Signs with cross-out mobiles and a finger over the lips remind users to keep the noise down. At reading stalls, tapping away at your laptop can also disturb other users. In many libraries, it's not allowed to take your backpack or bag into the working rooms. You can stow away your personal belongings in coin-operated lockers, which are often located near the main entrance. It's generally not a problem to take a bottle of water or a muesli bar to your workspace. But if you want to eat a big meal, the reading room is not the place for a picnic. Some libraries have an in-house café where you can take a break and recharge your batteries.

A place for learning

If you can't concentrate at home, simply take your work to the library. There you'll find a variety of workplaces for learners of every kind. Be it standing desks, comfy armchairs or spacious reading rooms, you can always find a quiet place to study. Around final exam time, however, it's best to reserve your favourite place early in the day, because that's when libraries get full very quickly.

Many libraries have group rooms where students can study together. You and your classmates can form a study group and arrange to meet in one of these group rooms at a certain time. The advantage is that you have access to all the reference books and can immediately fill any gaps in your knowledge.

Libraries also provide services to users with special needs, for example, the visually and physically impaired. At the Hamburg State Library, there are six computers with special keyboards, text enlargement software and onscreen help. The Dresden SLUB has a colourfully decorated room with toys and work tables for young parents who need a place to keep their child busy while they work.