Library Lookup: A Simple but Powerful Search Tool

Trying to decide whether to buy or borrow a book? Use the Library Lookup bookmarklet to instantly search your local library at the same time you're viewing pages at any online bookstore.

After moving thousands of books halfway across the country, I vowed that I would curb my book buying appetite and borrow more books from the library rather than buying them. Most local libraries now make their catalogs available online, so searching for particular titles from home is a straightforward task.

But it's also somewhat time consuming. Some libraries have well-designed catalog interfaces; others, unfortunately, use proprietary systems that require a fair amount of interaction to find what you're looking for.

The free Library Lookup bookmarklet is a brilliant little bit of code that makes looking up books at your local library painless and virtually instantaneous.

Here's how it works:

First, install the bookmarklet for your local library from the huge (international) list on the Library Lookup page (if you're not familiar with bookmarklets, see the SearchDay article, below). This is easy -- just drag the link to your library to your browser's link toolbar.

Next, visit any online bookstore (Amazon, Barnes and Noble,, etc.), and pull up a detailed description of a book you're interested in. Look for the book's ISBN (International Standard Book Number).

Highlight the ISBN, click the bookmarklet, and it automatically invokes your library's lookup service, feeds it the ISBN, and pops up a new window with the result. You see immediately whether your library has the book, and whether it is on the shelves or not.

That's all there is to it. Simple, but very powerful -- and very helpful for curtailing purchases of books that may end up just sitting on a shelf gathering dust.

Library Lookup works for any local public (or college) library that uses one of four systems that web-enable library catalogs. If your library doesn't use one of those systems, instructions are provided for building your own bookmarklet.

LibraryLookup Homepage
The Library Lookup bookmarklet instantly searches your local library while you're viewing pages at any online bookstore.

Build your own Bookmarklet
Can't find your library on one of the lists supported by Library Lookup? Try building your own bookmarklet.

Bookmarklets: Free Tools For Power Surfing
SearchDay, Feb. 28, 2002
Bookmarklets are handy free tools that enhance your web surfing experience, acting much like "intelligent" bookmarks.

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About the author

Chris Sherman is a frequent contributor to several information industry journals. He's written several books, including The McGraw-Hill CD ROM Handbook and The Invisible Web: Uncovering Information Sources Search Engines Can't See, co-authored with Gary Price. Chris has written about search and search engines since 1994, when he developed online searching tutorials for several clients. From 1998 to 2001, he was's Web Search Guide.