Frequently Asked Questions

What hours are you open?
The Palo Alto City Library system supports 5 branches, which have different hours. Check the hours and locations for each branch here.
Where are the library branches located and how do I get there?
Directions on how to get to each library branch are available from our map page, please see link below.
How many items can I check out and for how long?
Customers can have 99 items checked out on their card.  All materials are checked out for 4 weeks (28 days), except for DVDs, which are checked out for 2 weeks (14 days), the Lucky Day Collection (7 days - see below), and magazines, which are checked for one week (7 days).  NOTE: magazines can not be renewed.  Limits by material type are as follows:
  • 5 kids books-on-CD
  • 6 adult books-on-CD
  • 15 DVDs

Renew materials by logging into your account. Materials can be renewed three times if no one is waiting for them. Note that magazines are the exception - magazines may not be renewed.  If you do not have web access, you can call 650-329-2436 during open hours and ask to renew your materials.

All renewed items EXCEPT for DVDs will be due four weeks FROM THE DAY the items are renewed. DVDs will be due two weeks from the day they are renewed. If items are renewed EARLIER, they will be due SOONER.

Our “Lucky Day” collection has many new, bestselling titles that aren't available for hold requests and sit on the shelf waiting for a lucky patron like you. Just walk in and check them out!   Available at all locations except Children's Library.

The Lucky Day collection has it's own set of borrowing limits: 
  • You can enjoy up to 5 items (in any combination of formats) for up to 7 days.
  • Regular overdue fees apply.
  • Holds and renewals aren’t allowed.
How much are the fines & fees?  How can I pay them?
A list of the fines and fees, including those for overdue materials, lost items, interlibrary loan and other fees, are provided in the link below.  
  • Fines of any amount can be paid by cash or check at all library branches.
  • Fines of any amount can be paid by credit card (Visa, MasterCard, Discover & American Express) at all library branches except College Terrace.
  • Fines can be paid online by credit card.

To pay fines online, login to your library account and go to your Fines.  Use the Pay Online button to make your payment online with a credit card.

Online fine payments user agreement.

What holidays are the libraries closed?

All libraries will be closed the following days or hours in December 2015 & 2016: 

  • December 24, 2015 all locations close at 6pm for Christmas Eve
  • December 25, 2015 for Christmas Day
  • December 31, 2015 all locations close at 6pm for New Year's Eve
  • January 1 for New Year's Day
  • January 18 for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
  • February 15 for President's Day
  • February 16 for System upgrades
  • March 27 for Easter
  • May 30 for Memorial Day
  • July 4 for Fourth of July
  • September 5 for Labor Day
  • October 10 for Columbus Day
  • November 11 for Veteran's Day
  • November 23 all locations close at 6pm for Thanksgiving
  • November 24 & 25 or Thanksgiving
  • December 25 & 26 for Christmas
  • December 31 all locations close at 6pm for New Year's Eve

The Library may be closed on additional days around Christmas to match the City's holiday furlough period.


Can I return an item I checked out from one library branch to another?
Yes, any Palo Alto Library-owned material can be returned to any Palo Alto Library branch. The item will be checked in and returned to the owning branch.
NOTE: Link+ materials can only be returned at a library service desk.  Do not return LINK+ materials in the book drops.
What Library events or programs are coming up?
To find out what events are coming up, check out the Library wide calendar.  You can search with terms such as "storytime", "author" etc.  if you are looking for a specific event.
Is there a limit to how many requests or holds I can place?
Yes, there is a limit. Our system allows our customers to have up to 30 total holds of LINK+ & regular holds combined. These holds include pending requests and requests that are fulfilled and await pick up on our hold shelves. However, once you pick up a fulfilled hold you can place more. 
What is the difference between the Catalog and Catalog Plus?

The Library provides two different ways to search library books, e-books and other resources.

Catalog is the simplest way to search the catalog for items in the library collection such as books, e-books, music albums and movies.

Catalog Plus is a broader search tool that will include everything in the Catalog, plus other resources such as news articles, research articles and other online materials only available through the library.


Why do I need to log in with my name, 14-digit library card number and PIN?
Unlike the old system, which could identify your library card number based on just the last 7 digits of the full 14-digit number, the new system requires the full library card number.
As a standalone service, the old catalog only provided access to the catalog.
The new catalog log in screen serves as a single sign-on point for the catalog, integrated research databases, some eBook services, and LINK+ interlibrary lending, all within the same interface.  To bring all of these different systems together in a single experience, the name, full library card number, and PIN combination is needed.  Once logged into your catalog session, further sign ins to all connected systems are no longer needed.
I can't access the Library Catalog. What can I do?

If you receive a message such as "Web Page Not Responding" or "System Unavailable" when trying to access the Library Catalog, please do one of the following:

  • During regular library hours, call (650) 329-2436
  • If the catalog is unavailable after hours, we will address the issue as soon as staff return to work the following day.

Remember, even if the catalog is unavailable, our online resources like eBooks and research databases can still be accessed via the following web pages:

...meeting rooms for the public?
The library currently has the following rooms available for public use. (You can start by viewing all the locations where rooms are available at Palo Alto libraries through Liquid Space.)

Downtown Library -
  • One large community room
  • Two smaller group study/work rooms (Carnegie & University) reservable by groups of two or more for up to two hours per day per group.

Mitchell Park Library -

  • One large program room (Midtown Room).
  • Two group study/work rooms (Fairmeadow & Greenmeadow) reservable by groups of two or more for up to two hours per day per group.

Rinconada Library -

You can now reserve the group study rooms online through LiquidSpace!

Click the logo below to get started.

Downtown Library:


Mitchell Park Library:


Rinconada Library:


Please read the policy for use of the larger meeting rooms for more information. 

Contact the Recreation Department at 650-329-2261 to find out about other city facilities available for rental.  Find out more online. forms?
The library does not provide tax forms, but we can help you get what you need.  We have computers you can use to download and print forms, found here: 

...computers for public use?
The library has Internet terminals at all of the branches.  Most branches are running Windows XP with both IE8 & Chrome web browsers and the Microsoft Office Suite 2003.  Mitchell Park library branch computers are running Windows 7 with IE, Firefox & Chrome web browsers, Microsoft Office Suite 2010, Photoshop Elements 11.0 and Premiere Elements 11.0.

We also loan out laptops for use within the library,  Chromebooks you can take home, and provide Wi-Fi hotspots at every location.  A Library card is required to borrow laptops or Chromebooks.

See the links below for more information. for homebound or disabled customers?
The library offers a variety of services for the disabled or homebound.  Details can be found here.
...any job openings at the Library?
There are jobs available on a regular basis for hourly positions, such as Library Pages and Hourly Librarians. Regular, benefited positions are less frequently available. Check the Human Resources' Job Opportunities page for the most current list of jobs (both hourly and regular).

...apply for a library card?  Can I get a library card if I don't live in Palo Alto?
Yes! Just fill out the online registration form and then come into a library branch within 30 days for your library card.  Be prepared to provide ID and proof of your current California address and you can get the card right away. There is no cost to get a library card. 

Replacements of lost library cards will result in a $1 fee per replacement. the catalog from home?
The best way to find materials is to search the web catalog.
...find out what my Library PIN number is?
Your Library PIN (Personal Identification Number) is the last 4 digits of your phone number unless you've changed it from this default number. 

If you have registered for a new library card since Feb. 17, 2016, the default PIN is 1234 until you log in to change your PIN.

If you have forgotten your PIN, please complete a PIN reset.

A PIN allows you to access your record for renewals, holds, and to reserve a computer.

...renew my materials?
Renew materials by logging into your account. Materials can be renewed three times if no one is waiting for them.  If you do not have web access, you can call 650-329-2436 during open hours and ask to renew your materials.

All renewed items EXCEPT for DVDs will be due four weeks FROM THE DAY the items are renewed. DVDs will be due two weeks from the day they are renewed. If items are renewed EARLIER, they will be due SOONER.

...connect to the wifi at each branch library?
Wireless hotspots are available at every location during open hours.  Look for PA_OverAir_Library on your wireless device.   Accept the policy and enjoy 2 hours of access. After 2 hours, you can accept and go again.  No password or library card required. 
Find out more on the Wireless page.
...get a book, music album or movie you don't have?
Yes, our LINK+ interlibrary borrowing service allows you to use your Palo Alto Library card to borrow items from other participating LINK+ libraries.

Participating LINK+ Member Libraries

LINK+ ("LINK Plus") is a consortium of almost 50 libraries throughout California and Nevada sharing resources.  This service is free. 

  • Search the LINK+ catalog from the LINK+ image in the library catalog.
  • See your LINK+ holds & checkouts along with the rest of your account information when you log in to the catalog.

More information about LINK+

Neighboring library systems in Santa Clara County and San Mateo County may also have an item that you would like to borrow. We recommend that you go to that neighboring system to register for a card and check out those items. 

As of July 2011, the Library no longer offers the costly InterLibrary Loan (ILL) service.  Find out which local area libraries offer ILL and how much they charge on this Bay Area ILL Service list.

...suggest that you purchase an item?
Please fill out the online form with your suggestion.  We can't promise that we will buy an item that is suggested for purchase, since our budget and shelving space are limited.

...create a family account for Summer Reading?
Want to simplify Summer Reading for your family? Creating a family account let's you use one username and password to manage all of your family members’ Summer Reading. Each person logs independently, but will always sign in to the same program page with the same user name and password. 
Create the main account by registering for Summer Reading, then click 'Add Member.' You can sign up family members for the Kids, Teens, or Adults programs.  After you log in to the main account, you can switch between family members.
...donate materials to the Library?
Donations are accepted at the Friends of the Library Cubberley sale location. The proceeds from these sales benefit the library by providing increased monies for new collections, programs and services.

Donations for the collection are accepted under the provisions of the Donations for the Collection Policy, excerpted from the Palo Alto City Library Collection Development Policy, March 2011.
...know if my library hold is ready for pickup?

The status of your holds can be found in your library account and you may receive an email depending on how your spam filters are configured on your email account.

To view the status of your holds online:

  1. Navigate to the Library Catalog
  2. Click Login (top-right of screen)
  3. Then enter your login information.
  4. After logging in, click on your name (top-right of screen)
  5. Then select Holds (left menu)

You should then be able to view the status of your holds. If an item is ready, it will read: READY FOR PICKUP.

You may also access My Account from the library website. a request?
You can place a request by selecting the item you are interested in and choosing "Request Item".  Customers can have 20 items on request, which includes items awaiting pickup, at any one time.

You can also request books not available at the Palo Alto City Library through our LINK+ service.
...receive email courtesy notices?

Please make sure we have your correct email address on your account:

1. Log into Encore, the library catalog.
2. Click on your name in the top right of the screen to go to your account.
3. Click the Edit Account button to check or add your email address.
4. If you make changes, click the Submit button to confirm the changes.

If you are still not receiving email courtesy notices, please note the email sender address for courtesy notices is still, but it now comes from a different server. This means that some email programs flag these notices as junk or spam.

Please check your junk mail folders and mark the notices from the library as Not Spam or as from a Safe Sender. The exact process may be different depending on your email provider.

Please Note: Email notices are generated & sent once a day.  If you check your account or come into the library before the day’s notices are sent, you may find your hold on the hold shelf before you receive email notification. 

If you want real-time notices, you can sign up for SMS notices. 

1. Log into Encore, the library catalog.
2. Click on your name in the top right of the screen to go to your account.
3. Click the Edit Account button, and check box to Opt In for SMS Alerts. Add a mobile number.
4. Click the Submit button to confirm the changes.

...reserve a public pc?
None of the currently open libraries offer reservations on public pcs.

...find out when and where your storytimes for children are held?
There are regular storytimes available for toddlers and for preschoolers at all branches. Check the Kids' Pages for details.
...volunteer at the Library?
The library has a volunteer program and appreciates community involvement. Find out more about Volunteering at the Library.

...find and transfer My Lists from the old catalog system?

My Lists in the old catalog system cannot transfer directly to the new system, but we can help recover your lists. Please contact us with your name, email and library card number, and we will extract your Lists from the old system and email them to you as soon as we are able. The lists we send will have the catalog record number for each title. 

To recreate your lists:

  • Log into the new catalog.
  • Search for the record number in the catalog.
  • Add it to your cart.  The cart only stores the information during your current visit.
  • From your cart, you can save your titles to a list, following these instructions.
...find book reviews and other extras?
Once you click on a specific item to get the item's detailed information, you can then click the item image to get extras like book reviews.
...freeze (suspend) a hold?

If you are concerned that a hold will come in, and you will not be able to pick it up, you can freeze that hold request. Your position in the hold queue will be skipped over until you unfreeze the hold. Freezing a hold is either on or off. Library Staff cannot see or modify a hold once it is frozen .

You can not "freeze" (suspend) a request if:

  • the hold can be fulfilled by an item that is available, in-transit, or on the holdshelf for you
  • the hold status is "IN TRANSIT" or "ON THE HOLDSHELF".
  • the item has been pulled to fulfill your  hold
  • your position in the hold queue is fewer than the number of available items that can satisfy the hold
  • the hold is more than 255 days old

If freezing your hold does not meet your need, please contact Circulation Staff to set your hold to a “not needed before” date. 650-329-2436. do I make and save a list of books, movies or music?

If you want to make a project or themed list of books, movies and/or music, you can create lists.

To make a list:

  • Log into your account in the new catalog
  • When you find an item(s) you want to add, click the basket image under “Additional actions” to “Add to cart.” The cart only stores the information during your current visit.
  • When you have the items you want in your cart, click on “My Cart” and then “Save to List.”
  • You can give your list a unique name and short description.
  • After you save your list, you will find it on under “My Lists” on your account page. 
  • If you are making multiple lists in the same session, you will need to clear items from your cart after saving one list and before creating another. 

Items found through Article Databases on Catalog Plus cannot be saved to a list. If you want to save your reading history, go here

...login to My Account?

If you are coming from the library homepage, click My Account, which takes you to the account information page. From there you can click Sign In, which takes you to the sign in page.

After signing in, in the top right hand corner you will see your name. Click on your name to get your account details.

If you did a catalog search before logging in. In the top right hand corner, you will see “Login.” Click login.

Note: the Library fixed a bug with the login screen in late February, so some users may need to re-input their login information one more time to account for the changes we made. my reading history

The Library allows patrons to save their reading history.  You will need to activate this feature for your library account.  Your Reading History is accessible online to you by logging into your library account; library staff will not have access to this information.

To set up your Reading History, please follow the instructions on our Reading History page.

...use the Classic Catalog

The Classic Catalog is the more traditional catalog search experience and searches titles, authors, subjects in a more familiar environment.

To access the Classic Catalog, simply click the Classic Catalog link located in the top-right corner of the Library’s new Catalog.

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