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Penn Admissions Blog

Everything You Need To Know About Penn Libraries
Izzy | October 16, 2018

Over the past four years, I’ve discovered many treasures at Penn. One of the best things I’ve found is the library. I have been a student employee at the Van Pelt Library, Penn’s central undergraduate library, since freshman year and I have learned the ins and outs of the massive building that is practically overflowing with books. As an English major, having a deep knowledge of Penn’s libraries has been immensely helpful and exciting. I know that not everyone is a book nerd like me, but I want more people to know how much Penn libraries has to offer. It is more than a study space. It’s a resource that can serve Wharton, Engineering, Nursing, and College students alike!

Here is a beginner’s guide to Penn’s libraries so that least book-loving person can step into Van Pelt with the utmost confidence.

Familiarize yourself with the Penn Libraries website.

Like most libraries, Penn has a comprehensive online catalog. Visit and you will find a homepage with a search bar. This search bar will be your new best friend. Penn has several libraries and this website searches every Penn library for your request. I have found textbooks, bestsellers, DVDs, current magazines, cookbooks, picture books, microfilm, and more! The catalog contains so much material that it can be overwhelming to look through all of the search listings. Don’t sweat it. After conducting your own search, you can call or visit one of Penn’s libraries to ask for help with your search results.

If you’re on a budget, look for course books in the library.

It’s no surprise that course books are expensive. As an English major, I am required to read up to thirty books a semester! That’s a pretty pricey trip to Barnes and Noble. While there are many options for getting coursebooks, such as buying or renting, I prefer to find my books at the library. I think of it like an adventure: how many books can I get for free? Sometimes I can find exactly what I’m looking for in Van Pelt. But often I use Penn’s interlibrary loan system. Since Penn is a large university, it has connections with other libraries. These libraries lend their books to Penn students for twelve weeks at a time. All you have to do is request the books online and they are shipped to Penn within 3-5 business days. The interlibrary loan system has saved me so much time and money. It might be one my favorite things about Penn.

Explore all the study spaces

Among undergraduates, it is common practice to study in Van Pelt library. Most of my friends study in the Undergraduate Study Center on the ground floor or in the Moelis Reading Room on the first floor, a recently-opened reading room that is outfitted with long tables with outlets, comfy individual chairs, and sound proof walls. These are two great options but there are so many other places to study as well! There is the Weigle Information Commons, where you can book a study booth to work with a group, the third and fourth floor study lounges, the sixth floor lounge with couches and panoramic windows, the Shakespeare library, and so much more. I recommend taking a tour of the Van Pelt, and Penn’s many other libraries, such as Fisher Fine Arts or the Museum Library, for yourself and find your favorite study spot. Maybe you like to be near people in a cafe setting or maybe you want to be completely alone. Either way, there is absolutely a space for you in the library and it is just waiting to be discovered!

Discover everything the library has to offer

Penn libraries has so many resources. It is truly astounding how many new, old, and rare materials the library has access to. As a student, you are welcome to engage with these materials whenever you want. For example, I took a class called Eating Modernism and my class went to the Rare Books collection in Van Pelt Library and looked through original copies of cookbooks from the early twentieth century. It was amazing to see these well preserved books and flipping through them felt like stepping back in time. Library staff can connect you to physical resources as well as online databases that can help you with your class assignments or research projects. If you’re feeling nervous about looking at special collections or asking for research assistance, remember: you are a Penn student and Penn Libraries is here to support you with anything you need. You never know where one project, one book, one newspaper clipping, could lead you.

Ask questions!

As a library employee, I answer many questions every day. I can say from experience that the Penn library staff are kind and knowledgeable people who genuinely want to help you. If you need help finding a book, renting a laptop, or locating the nearest bathroom, come ask us! One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned in college is a the value of asking for help. It sounds cheesy, but no one accomplishes anything alone and we all need help in big and small ways, and the easiest way to get the that help is to ask for it!

About the author

Hi, my name is Izzy and I am in the College of Arts and Sciences, studying English with a concentration in Creative Writing. My work has been published in the Red Cedar Review, F-Word magazine, r.kv.r.y. the quarterly literary journal, and the Penn Review. I currently write for Penn Appetit and can often be found in the Kelly Writers House or Van Pelt library circulation desk. When I'm not writing or rewriting, I am exploring Philadelphia's flavorful food scene, looking at rescue cats online, or making DIY gifts for my friends.  

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