Finding books in nearby library branches
I’m trying to make better use of my local public library. I want to read more books, and borrowing from the library keeps the habit sustainable. It also saves a fair bit of money, and I don’t have to decide what to do with books when I’m done.
Recently, I built a tool to help me find books to borrow, and it’s working pretty well.
It starts with my library’s online catalogue. When I find a book I might be interested in reading, I tap the bookmark icon in the upper right-hand corner of the search result:
This saves the book to a list on the library site, which I can view on my account page. But the website makes it hard to work out what I can actually borrow. The example above says “92 copies”, which means 92 physical books floating around the library network – but they could be on loan, on hold for another reader, or in a branch halfway across the county.
If I tap “View availability”, I get a long list of every copy in the network, its location and status:
Given there are dozens of books I’m interested in, scrolling lists like this gets tedious. There must be a better way!
I’ve written a Python script that scrapes the library website, fetches all this information, then presents it in a nicer way. The library website uses a platform called Spydus, and I found some existing code for logging into Spydus sites by pretending to be a browser. Then I use BeautifulSoup to parse the data from the library HTML, and Jinja to render it in a nicer way.
This is what my new page looks like:
It shows the list of books I’m interested in, and highlights the copies which are actually available – and specifically, copies that are available in branches within walking distance of my home. I could walk in and borrow any of these books immediately.
Over time, I expect books to gradually move around as they’re borrowed by other readers – so even if a book isn’t in a nearby branch today, it might be sometime in the future. I can order books from a different branch to pick up locally, but right now I have plenty to choose from.
This filtered list is particularly useful when I’m in a hurry. There’s a library branch near the train station, so I can pop in and pick up a few books on the way to the office – but I can’t take too long, or I’ll be late for work. Having a list of what’s readily available means I can be in and out quickly.
The tool includes a pick list of branches. For example, if I’m visiting Ware to get my pictures framed, I can find out if there’s anything I want to borrow at the library branch just down the road:
I’ve already used this for several rounds of borrowing, and it’s working great. Having a steady supply of new and interesting books is encouraging me to read more, and I feel less guilt about abandoning a book I’m not enjoying – I’m not losing anything. (I can only read one book at a time, so a bad book really stops me in my tracks.)
Although I don’t expect anybody else to use this tool directly, I’ve put the code on GitHub. There may be ideas or techniques here that apply to a different problem you have – and while you read through that, I have a stack of library books to finish.