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When you Can’t Browse The Library, Shelf Help Is Here To Help!


Do you love browsing the library shelves looking for new books you have never seen before? Have you been seriously missing this during the pandemic? Not to worry, the New York Public Library has a solution to this need that may be even better than the physical act of browsing your local library: Shelf Help!

New York Public Library Shelf Help Program

New York Public Library Shelf Help Program

Shelf Help is a program that was recently started by the library, that allows patrons to request this type of help from a librarian. The coolest part about it is that you may have several librarians, at multiple branches, helping you. So, this could be considered even better than browsing the bookshelves used to be.

I know for myself, similarly to using Barnes and Noble’s website, if you don’t know what book you want, you aren’t going to have much success browsing or searching by topic on the website. It simply doesn’t work. Especially with the library, their search is a bit limited, really only finding books that match your title, not a given topic. So, if the topic is not in the title, then the book will not be found.

So, Shelf Help is here to the rescue! All you have to do is fill out the form, stating where you want to pick the books up from, and a category or topic you are interested in. The librarians will quickly get to work finding at least five books (in my case, they found seven!), and sending them to the library you chose.

Then you get notified, and head over to the branch to pick up your “book bundle”. When I first tried this program, I asked for books on a specific topic, that I have searched and browsed for at my local library. Not only were the seven books that I received great, they were also books I have never seen before, have never heard of, and were totally awesome. I would have read them all years ago, but I didn’t know they existed.

And that is the magic of the Shelf Help program. Librarians are trained to know how to find books, and best of all, most of the librarians that will be helping you are from larger branches, like those in Manhattan. As a result, you will get much more interesting and rare books, and they have a much wider selection to choose from.

By Alex Proimos from Sydney, Australia - Grand Study Hall, New York Public Library, CC BY 2.0

By Alex Proimos from Sydney, Australia – Grand Study Hall, New York Public Library, CC BY 2.0

As an example, the Mid-Manhattan branch has four stories of books that were previously open for browsing. Having a large footprint as well, this library is huge. This library is the one that is credited with having “eighty-three miles of book” in its stacks, according to Wikipedia. That’s a lot of books!

You could literally get lost in that library (I know I have!). Having someone to guide you through these miles of books, or someone seeking books on a particular topic, makes finding gems of reading that much easier.

So, I guess my final question is, what are you waiting for? Not only is it free and easy, but it will give you a totally new experience of using your library: finding really stellar books that you will love, because your librarian will find them for you. What could seriously be better? I can’t wait to try it again, once I have read some of the books I already got. One could get overwhelmed with amazing books, and get lost in the Reading Rainbow!

Reading Rainbow PBS Logo

Reading Rainbow PBS Logo



This byline indicates that this article was penned by a member/members of the Staten Islander News Organization office team. Our staff writers are the backbone of our newspaper, performing all sorts of important tasks like conducting interviews, investigating leads, besides writing the news stories you see.

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