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  • Jennifer Schmit

Book-hunting 101

Becoming an expert book hunter is a high priority for homeschool moms (and dads and kids): it saves money on book purchases and gives you a much wider variety of book choices than you thought possible.

The first step is to find your local library branch and the website for your library system. Get a library card and learn how to access your account online. Online access will allow you to search for, renew, and request books from the comfort of your home. I use the San Diego County Library (SDCL), so the following descriptions will be based on the SDCL online interface.

Let’s start book hunting with a title that we are bound to find at the library: Little House in the Big Woods.

  • Search the library catalog by title (you can also search by author, subject, etc.), and it will probably return several print editions of the book, and maybe audio versions, too.

  • Select one of the options, and the next page should show you details for that particular edition of the book. SDCL lists the branches that circulate that title and if the title is available or checked out.

  • If the title is available at your local branch, you can just go pick it up and check it out; if not, you should be able to request it by clicking on a “request” icon. (If it is not obvious how to do this, ask your librarian to show you.) By requesting the title, the library will send it to your local branch and send you an email when it is ready for pick-up. Pretty convenient!

If we look back to the page with the title information, “Subject” topics should be listed somewhere on the page. If we had searched the catalog by subject, using one of these listed “subjects,” this book and many others would have been found. This is a great way to find other titles on the same subject.

  • For example, one the the “subjects” listed at the SDCL is “Frontier and pioneer life — Wisconsin — Juvenile fiction.” If I click on this subject, the catalog automatically does the search and returns several books.

  • It looks to me like the “Wisconsin” part of the search might be too specific, so I will edit the search criteria, deleting “Wisconsin” but leaving all the other terms. This new search returns 85 titles — all fiction (i.e. Juvenile fiction) related to pioneer life! You are bound to find a few interesting titles amongst the plenty.

Now lets try searching for a non-fiction title, Buffalo Bill. If I search SDCL by title for “Buffalo Bill,” several items return, but none appear to be the title by D’aulaire that I was looking for. I have two options now:

  1. Click on one of the “JB” titles (JB = Juvenile Biography), and then try a search by subject like I did in the “Frontier life” example above.

  2. Or try a different search by author. If I search by author for “D’aulair,” the authors Edgar and Ingri D’aulaire are found. You can look at both authors to see which one is correct (and as you poke around, you might find other titles that look interesting, so jot them down so you can look for them later). Disappointingly, SDCL no longer circulates this title, but hopefully your library system will have lots of titles by Ingri and Edgar D’aulaire. These authors have written and illustrated many wonderful biographies for children.

If you can’t find a book at the library through your searches, don’t give up! Your librarian might still be able to find the book for you. The SDCL offers two extended searches that look for items at other local sources as well as across the state. SDCL calls these networks the “Circuit” and “Link.” The SDCL website has icons to search these networks and request titles, so maybe your library’s website does, too. If you cannot find links to these extended networks, ask your librarian for assistance. I found “Buffalo Bill” in the SDCL Circuit, and I could request it from that network using my library card. Make sure to ask your librarian if there are any special rules regarding renewals and returns for books borrowed through extended networks.

If what I’m looking for just is not available through the library, I usually try Amazon. For example, if I now go to Amazon and search for “Buffalo Bill D’aulair” in books, there it is for $16.16! As I scroll down, I notice the “Customers who bought this item also bought” heading. Here I see a number of other biographies by these authors and can read the reviews and descriptions. I highly recommend the D’aulaire books, but if $16 is not within your homeschool budget, watch for the titles at your local used book store.

Browsing Amazon is also a great way to find titles related to the book you’re searching for. Look through the “Customers who bought this item also bought” areas and any Listmania! lists that you can find. Then head back to the library catalog and see what’s available.

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