LIBRARY BASICS: Services of the University Libraries


The University Libraries offer a number of services designed to help you acquire research materials more efficiently.  For more information about these services, click the appropriate web link or contact the providing unit.

Remote Access to the Online Catalog and Databases

You may want to do some of your library research before you go to the library.  You may search The CAT, the online catalog for materials owned by the University Libraries, through any Internet connection.

Access to the subscription databases provided via the Libraries’ web site ( is not so readily guaranteed.  Access to a database is determined by who you are and where you are.  Most of the time, access is limited to registered current Penn State students, faculty, and staff.  For many databases, remote access is obtained by authentication using your Access User ID and Password.  Other databases may only be accessed from a Libraries workstation or through a Penn State network connection.  In addition, the browser and its version determine how much functionality you will have in many of the databases.  More information about remote access is available online.

Borrowing Privileges

To register as a borrower with the University Libraries, bring your Penn State ID to any library circulation desk.  Only registered library borrowers may borrow library materials or access library databases and electronic resources when connecting from outside the Libraries.
After registering with the Libraries, faculty and graduate students are eligible to check out a maximum of 200 items.  Books may be checked out for a semester and renewed twice online; the loan periods for other materials vary, so check at the owning library.  See the Borrower Services pages for more information.

Course Reserves

Instructors often place items on reserve as supplementary materials for their courses.  Lists of these materials may be accessed via The CAT by clicking on the Course Reserves button, then searching by instructor name, course name, or course number.  Clicking on the Detail button offers information on accessing the course reserve item by giving a call number and reserve desk location or by providing a hyperlink allowing electronic access to the item.

“I Want It”

The “I Want It” button in The CAT can be used to recall Penn State University Libraries materials that are currently unavailable, either because the items are checked out other library users or because they are on shelf at another campus location. 

To recall an item, click the “I Want It” button, enter your Access User ID and Password, then select a location for pickup.  You will be notified by e-mail when the item is available for pickup (so make sure that you give the Libraries your active e-mail address when you register).  Items on shelf at another location usually take about 48 hours to arrive; items checked out to other users may take a couple of weeks.  Note: Just as you may recall materials from others, so may materials be recalled from you.  You will be notified by e-mail if an item is recalled from you.  If the item is not returned by the recall date specified in the e-mail message, overdue fees will be assessed.

Interlibrary Loan

Interlibrary Loan makes it possible to obtain materials that the Penn State University Libraries don't own.  Most libraries will loan their books for a short period and make copies of articles from their journal collections.  Some libraries will also loan theses and dissertations, audio-visual materials, and microforms.  Most libraries will not loan items that are housed in their reference collections.  Loan periods and receipt times vary, although most items are received within 2-3 weeks.  You will be notified by e-mail when the requested items arrive for pickup or, in the case of journal articles, are posted to a web site for viewing.

After checking The CAT to determine that the item is not owned by Penn State, fill out the appropriate book or article request form, available electronically on the Interlibrary Loan web page.  Some, but not all, databases—such as OCLC FirstSearch databases (e.g. WorldCat)—allow you to submit ILL requests directly from an item record page.

Reference Assistance

Library services include reference assistance, or consultation on identifying and using library resources to help you with your research.  You can ask questions

You may also contact a subject specialist librarian to arrange an individualized reference session.

Practice Activities

1. From the Libraries’ home page, click on Interlibrary Loan under Services.  Select the request form and fill it out.  (You may make up a book or article to request.)  When you have filled out the form completely, click the Reset button at the bottom of the form.