Spokane Public Library offers a variety of materials on a wide range of subjects. This page provides help on how to find information at the library. Please feel free to contact the reference staff at any of the branches of the library for further assistance. For information on using the internet, check out our Find the Best Internet Resources.
Choose a topic. Decide what kinds of and how much information about that topic you want. You might want to ask yourself the following questions:
Examples of narrowing down a topic:
Choose your sources of information. The types of materials required and the scope of your topic determine the type of resources you may want to use. Below are resources available at the library and a brief description of those kinds of resources.
Reference materials can often be used as an introduction to your topic and to find specific facts. The particular topic you need may be difficult to find using the Library Catalog, so ask a librarian to help you find an appropriate reference source. Examples of reference books are encyclopedias, dictionaries, and almanacs. Reference sources can also include online subscription databases, such as can be found in our Reference Resources internet page. Some of these may be restricted to in-library use only or require a library card to access them from outside the library. Items that are placed in the Reference collection do not check out from the library; these include items in the Northwest Room or Genealogy sections. Reference books are available in both juvenile and adult reading levels.
Nonfiction materials are factual resources. Nonfiction books can be in the Reference collection or can be checked out. They can be found in the Library Catalog by searching author, title, subject, or general keyword. Nonfiction resources can be a source of in-depth information on a topic. Nonfiction items are shelved according to Dewey Decimal call numbers. Check out the Locating Materials section for more information, or see this Dewey Decimal list of call numbers for popular subjects. Nonfiction materials can be found in many formats, such as books, audiobooks, or videos, and can be in both juvenile and adult reading levels.
Biographies are a category of nonfiction items. Biographies are about the lives of people. An autobiography is a book written by a person about his or her own life. Biographies and autobiographies are arranged alphabetically by the last name of the person written about. An exception to this are people such as royalty or saints who are known by their first names. Biographies can be found in many formats and reading levels.
Fiction is non-factual material in the form of short stories or novels. Most libraries separate fiction from the forms of creative literature such as poetry and drama. Fiction is arranged on the shelves by the author's last name, or by title if there are multiple authors. Fiction comes in book and audio formats and in many different reading levels. Some items may have a genre indicator such as a label for science fiction, mystery, or fantasy.
Magazines are a good source for up-to-date information about a topic. Magazines are sometimes called periodicals. At Spokane Public Library customers can search for magazine articles from our Research Resources section of our Library Catalog. From outside of the library you will need to enter a valid city resident library card number before you can access these subscription magazine databases. Many of these articles in our magazine databases are available full text (the complete article text is available) and may be printed out for a charge or emailed for free. Other articles in the databases have only an abstract - a summary of the article - and/or a citation - author, title of the article, magazine title, date, and page numbers only. These articles may be available in some other format, such as print or microform. Ask at a Library Reference and Information Desk or do a "Starts with..." search in the Library Catalog for the journal or magazine's title.
See the full-text and images of popular magazines by signing up for our Zinio online magazine service.
Older magazine articles, in paper or microform format, can be found by searching paper subject indexes that are found in the Reference collection, such as the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature. Magazine articles are usually of general interest. Journal articles are usually academic or research oriented. Since Spokane Public Library is a public library, most of the periodicals will be of a general nature. University and college libraries in the region are a better source for academic journals. With a valid city resident library card, you can also use an online product such as MasterFile Complete and limit your search to peer-reviewed publications, which are the more academic journals.
Newspaper articles are another good source for up-to-date information about a topic. Spokane Public Library carries paper copies of newspapers for a few months. The library maintains older editions of The Spokesman Review, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal on microfilm at the Downtown Library. For dates from the mid-1990s on, the full text of these newspapers can be searched on our Proquest Discovery database at any Spokane Public Library branch, or from outside the library if you have a valid city resident library card. The Spokesman Review is also available in a digital version starting in 2010. For older issues, there are paper indexes at the Downtown Library for The Spokesman Review (1887-1920, 1988-1994), The New York Times (1851-2002), and The Wall Street Journal (1961-2004).
A list of subscription databases can be found in Research Resources by topic or alphabetically. Because these are funded by local taxpayer dollars, they are only accessible from home by city residents with valid library cards or those who pay for library cards. These are excellent sources for authoritative research, how to, and entertainment information. Topics include biographies, genealogy, car repair, and downloadable audiobooks. These internet-based resources are available 24/7.
Travel vertical file materials include maps and brochures for U.S. states and countries of the world. They are not listed in the Library Catalog; instead they are filed in cabinets alphabetically by state or country at the Downtown Library. Vertical file pamphlets are often good resources to use for school assignments as well as travel. Vertical file materials may be checked out.
Government documents are publications such as reports, statistics, brochures, and maps that are produced by federal, state, and local governments. Documents may be books, periodicals, microfiche, pamphlets, maps, forms, CD-ROMs, and internet pages.
Spokane Public Library receives documents on local government topics from both the City of Spokane and Spokane County, such as the Comprehensive Plan or the budget. Some local documents can be found on the library catalog, while others can be located by library staff using finding tools. Most can be found on the internet. Please ask at a Reference and Information Desk for assistance.
Washington State Documents
Many documents published by various Washington State agencies are available at the Downtown Library. Others can be found on the internet. Some state documents can be found using the library catalog. They will usually have a call number starting with WA. Other documents can be located by library staff using other tools. Please ask at a Reference and Information Desk for assistance.
Many useful documents are kept on the Federal Documents Reference Shelves on the second floor of the Downtown Library. These include indexes, statistics, regulations, census data, weather data, the Federal Budget, and IRS forms. Microfiche, maps, and CD-ROMs are also on the second floor. They are assigned a Superintendent of Documents number (a SuDoc number) instead of a Dewey Decimal number. This means the federal documents are arranged on the shelf in alphabetical order by the names of the agencies that produced them, such as A for Department of Agriculture. Many, but not all, federal documents can be found by searching the catalog. Others can be found on the internet. Please ask a librarian for assistance locating and using federal documents.
A variety of audiovisual materials such as DVDs, music CDs, and audiobooks are available at Spokane Public Library. The DVD, video, and audiobook collections include nonfiction items, such as instructional or biographical materials. Downloadable audiobooks and music are now available for city resident card holders.
Spokane Public Library has larger collections of materials in Spanish, Vietnamese, and Russian at the Downtown and Hillyard Libraries. These items can be searched by language in the library catalog. Spokane Public Library has smaller collections of items in other foreign languages as well. Collections include books and movies in foreign languages. Books and audio materials for learning foreign languages or English as second language can be found in the regular nonfiction shelves in the Dewey Decimal range 400-499. See the Find the Best Foreign Language & ESL Resources page for more suggestions.
Many old newspapers, magazines, and other documents are only available in microfilm or microfiche (microforms). These are miniaturized film versions of documents that must be viewed with a microform viewer that enlarges the film image. Microform readers and printers are only found at the Downtown Library on the Third Floor. We have electronic scanners that will allow you to print images from microforms or save them to a USB drive.
The internet provides immediate access to vast amounts of information. Because all of this information on the internet is not completely organized, finding accurate information may be difficult. Check out our Find the Best pages created by librarians to help you locate the best internet resources on certain topics. Spokane Public Library also offers classes on internet searching and evaluation. Check out the for the calendar for the latest classes or call 444-5300 for more information.
You can get an overview of what is taught in the following internet pages:
Spokane Public Library has full-service, 90-minute long Internet terminals available to valid library card holders. See the Internet Computer Station FAQ and the Internet Use Policy for more information. Reservations can be made up to a week ahead of time using our self-reservation system. Most internet computers also offer a suite of Microsoft Office and LibreOffice products, including a text editor, slide presentation software, and spreadsheet. The smaller branches have a 15-minute, first-come, first-served Internet terminal for those without valid cards. All Spokane Public Libraries have wireless Internet access for those with wireless adapters on their own equipment.
Materials at Spokane Public Library are arranged by call number. A call number shows the shelf location of the item for which you are looking. Spokane Public Library uses the Dewey Decimal System of call numbers for its nonfiction items; the Dewey Decimal System arranges nonfiction items by numbers that represent subjects, so that items on similar subjects are grouped together for easier browsing. Items on the same subject may have the same Dewey number but different authors, so it is important to include the author's name when you search for these items on the shelves. Below is an example of how a nonfiction item displays in the catalog:
Mountain biking Spokane-Coeur d'Alene / Martin Potucek. Guildford, CT : Falcon, c2003.
Location shows which branch owns the item. Collection shows the area within the library. Call No. shows the location of the item on the shelf. Status shows whether an item is checked out or available. Due Date appears when an item is checked out. Ask a librarian if you have questions about finding a call number location.
Sometimes the catalog indicates a call number that does not have a Dewey number, or there may be letter in front of the number. The following are call numbers you may encounter:
For help in locating items on the shelf, ask at any Reference and Information Desk.