Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How do I find a book?

A: Locating a book is usually a two-step process: 1) Identify the correct Massachusetts online catalog, usually the catalog that shows your local library's books. 2) Search that catalog by author, title or subject. Identify which library owns a copy, and whether it is currently on the shelf.

Many of the largest online catalogs can now be searched simultaneously through the Massachusetts "Virtual Catalog".

Virtual Catalog
Find A Catalog


Q: Why can't I just type in the book author or title that I want?

A: Massachusetts is working on a way to allow you to search statewide for books, tapes, CDs and DVDs. It is called the Virtual Catalog. Presently, you can search approximately 20 of the largest catalogs in the state. You can enter the Virtual Catalog right from this Web site's home page.

If the Virtual Catalog yields no results, please contact your library's Interlibrary Loan department for further assistance.

Find Books in the Virtual Catalog
Virtual Catalog FAQ


Q: Can I reserve books online?

A: If you have a library card, you may be able to reserve a book online from your home library system. You must already be registered in that system to reserve material.

The statewide Virtual Catalog does allow some residents to directly request books from other library systems. You will still need to be a registered user in good standing at some participating library. Eventually, all nine automated resource sharing networks (e.g., OCLN, Minuteman, NOBLE) will allow direct requesting on the Virtual Catalog.

Search for your Catalog
Enter the Virtual Catalog


Q: How do I find a magazine or newspaper article online?

A: First, try our collection of full-text articles on Gale Info Trac. Your regional library system may have additional full-text magazine databases to search. Some databases can be searched only from within your library; others may be searched from yourhome or office, but you must have a library card from an authorized library.

If you cannot find the full text of the article on one of our online databases, place an interlibrary loan request with your local library. Article title, author, date and pages may be required to identify the article.

Login via the Mass.gov/libraries portal
Magazine & Newspaper Articles
List of Libraries with remote access


Q: Can someone at the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners answer my reference question?

A: This Web site is not a center for reference or research questions. If such questions come to us, we will generally forward them to the Boston Public Library, the statewide reference and referral center. If the question is about libraries in Massachusetts, librarianship, or activities and services of the Board of Library Commissioners, then we will respond to you directly.

If you have a more general reference question, consider the following options:

Option 1: Visit, phone, or email your local library

Option 2: Call your regional reference center, or go to their web sites. Massachusetts is divided up into six library regions. Each region has designated one or more large public libraries as a reference center. The regional reference centers are now providing realtime chat reference service.

Option 3. Use the reference forms at Boston Public Library

Boston Public Library Reference
Questions about the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners


Q: How can I get a library card?

A: The public library in the town where you reside can provide you with a library card. Usually there is no charge for library cards. (Non-residents of Massachusetts and replacement cards may be exceptions based on local library policy and whether the library accepts state aid.). Each library has its own procedures for giving out library cards. Most libraries require that you provide some form of identification to obtain a card.

If you already have a library card form a library belonging to an automated resource sharing network (i.e., CLAMS, MetroBoston, Minuteman, NOBLE, MVLC, C/WMARS, OCLN, or SAILS), your card will accepted at other libraries within that network. You may be able to register at other networks using your local card.

Q: How do I find a library, its homepage, hours and directions?

A: This Web site provides a statewide listing of more than 1,700 libraries that are members of our regional library systems. The vast majority of libraries, including all 370 public libraries, most college and university libraries, about 1,000 school libraries and a smaller number of "special" libraries are included.

The library's address, phone, hours and a link to the library's homepage are listed in the directory. Directions are often found on a library's homepage, but are not currently included in our directory, nor is a link to Web mapping sites such as Mapquest of Mapblast.

Massachusetts Statewide Library Directory


Q: Can I borrow from a library other than my own? Can I return books at any library?

A: There are various ways of borrowing materials from public libraries other than your own. If your library is a member of one of the automated library networks (e.g., Minuteman, C/WMars, etc.), you can use your library card to borrow books at any other library in the network. You can borrow books from any public library in Massachusetts if you are a registered borrower in good standing in your hometown library. You may be required to obtain a library card at the "out of town" library.

Your local public library can arrange to borrow books from other libraries for you. They will have the books sent to your library.

If you borrow material from one library you may be able to return it at another. Please check with the library at which you intend to return it.

There is a statewide delivery system that moves books and other material from one library to another, but it is the local library's policy that will determine whether they will accept the material from you.

If the book is due within the next day you may be charged overdue fines by the owning library.

Q: How can I renew a book online?

A: In many if not most cases, if you have taken out a book from a particular library or network, you can renew online through that network's web page. You cannot renew a book on this Web site. However, we can point you to the correct web page.

Library Web Sites
Automated Resource Sharing Networks


Q: Can I use a non-public library?

A: It depends. To use some academic or special libraries, you may need to get a letter of referral from your local reference librarian explaining the nature of your research. A few libraries will allow you access for a daily fee.

Remember that some materials in libraries with restricted access may be obtainable via interlibrary loan at no charge to you.

Q: Who should I speak with about a policy in my library.

A: Your first step is to contact the library director. You may use the statewide library directory to identify the library director.

Statewide Library Directory


Q: How can I find a program which will help an adult read and write or help someone who does not speak English well to read and write better?

A: Check out the following list of literacy programs in libraries which help people to learn to read and write.

Or contact the Massachusetts Adult Literacy Hotline at 1-800-447-8844 or check out their web site.

Massachusetts Libraries Providing Literacy/ESOL Programs
Massachusetts Adult Literacy Hotline


Q: What accessibility options are available to me?

A: Contact info for the Perkins School and Worcester Talking Books Library

Access Centers

Accessibility in Massachusetts Libraries for Individuals with Disabilities
Talking Books Program


Q: Can I use the Internet in my library?

A: Almost all of the 370 public libraries in Massachusetts have public computers with Internet access. Your library may have signup forms and timesheets or policies concerning acceptable use.

Q: How can I become involved in my library?

A: Trustees and Friends

Massachusetts Library Trustees Association (MLTA)
Massachusetts Friends of Libraries, Inc. (MFOL)


Q: Do Massachusetts libraries sponsor a Summer Reading Program?

A: Yes, the MBLC and Massachusetts Library System sponsor a Statewide Summer Library Adventure each year.

Page last updated on 07/3/2015