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One hundred thirty-one libraries in Reaching Across Illinois Library System (RAILS) share an integrated library automation system known as PrairieCat. By sharing the cost of central site equipment, computer and database maintenance staff, and telecommunications; libraries of all sizes (including public, academic, school and special) have found it possible to join the consortium and to realize the advantages of automated resource sharing.

PrairieCat maintains an online consortium catalog for its members. The catalog lists more than one million titles of books, periodicals, cassettes, videos, CDs, DVDs, electronic resources and other library materials. The catalog shows which libraries own a given title and if the item is currently on the shelf. Through the catalog, patrons of fully participating libraries can manage their own accounts, place holds, track their reading history, and pay fines with a credit card.

How To Search

There are two options when searching for materials in PrairieCat: Basic Search and Advanced Search.  The Basic Search will search the entire catalog for the words that were entered.  Advanced Search is more in-depth and so it requires more information, but it can lead to more specific results.

Basic Search

The Basic Search retrieves titles that are related to the word(s) entered.  For example, searching for “War and Peace” will yield many items that are from many locations and in several formats. However, Basic Search allows for refinement on the left hand side of the page.  The Refine By sidebar provides a number of options for you to narrow your search results to help you find what you are looking for.

Listed below are some of the most popular refinements. The number in parentheses indicates the number of items in that category included in your search result.

Format — This allows you to choose whether you want a book, DVD, magazine, etc.

Libraries — This allows you to choose a specific library (like Schmaling) that owns the material. This will show the items available in that library but will still show other libraries’ items.

Found In — If you are looking for a book about an author, limit to Found In in the subject field. If you are looking for a book by an author, limit to Found In in the author field.

Tag —This provides links to related search terms you might use if you are not finding desired results.

Setting/Publish Date — Setting will choose materials set in the
specified location. Using the publish date function will find items that were published between the years provided.

Advanced Search

Advanced search is a tool that combines basic search and the refinement tools into one tool. If you want to be specific, or are unsure of what you are searching for, this is the recommended option. It allows you to narrow down your search all in one step.

To make your search more focused, use as many of the search boxes in the upper part of the screen as you need. A “keyword” search looks for your search term anywhere in the record, so is typically a very broad search. Click on the drop down arrow next to “keyword” to change your search to a “title”, “subject”, or “author” search, which looks for your search term only in those more specific fields, and typically yields fewer search results.

In the lower half of the screen, you can limit your results by format (book, DVD, etc.), by the library that owns the material, by the language of the material, or by a range of publication years.  There is also an option to add more limits (choose more than one library, for instance) by using the + sign next to a limit.

Then click on the Search button conduct your search and retrieve your results!

Placing Items on Hold

You can personally place items on hold through PrairieCat, but first you will need to be logged in to your account. You will need your
library card (the barcode number) and your PIN number, which is simply the last four digits of your library card barcode number.

When you are logged in, search for the item. When you find it, click on the “Request it” button on the right hand side of the item description. This will launch a pop-up.

Select Schmaling Memorial Library as your pickup location by clicking the downward arrow in the drop box. If you have a deadline for the material, you can indicate that as well. Note that your hold will be cancelled on that deadline date if not filled by then. Click the “Submit” button. Your request will be processed and you will be informed when your material is ready for pickup by your preferred contact method: phone call, email, or even text!

Frequently Asked Questions

“I do not know my pin number, what do I do?”

Try using the last 4 digits of your library card’s barcode number. If that does not work then click on the “Forget your pin?” link underneath the login section. This will lead you to receive an email with the steps necessary to reset your pin number. If this is also not working, contact your library and ask for assistance.

“I read a lot of books and want to keep track of them. Can the library track them for me?”

The library cannot track the books that you’ve read. However, using PrairieCat, you may opt into a list that keeps track of the items you have checked out on your account. When you login, click on your name in the top right corner of the page to go into your account. Click on Reading History and then click on the Opt In button. Once you opt in, a history will be kept of everything that you have checked out. You can manage your own reading history, including deleting items when desired, or exporting your history. You can also choose to opt out at any time. When you opt out, your reading history will be cleared.

“How do I get to the PrairieCat catalog?”

We keep a link to the PrairieCat catalog located on the right-hand side menu on our website at all times.

The address is

What information and functions are
available in My Account?

My Account allows you a real time look at the items you currently have checked out, on hold, or have previously circulated (if you Opt In to Reading History). You can renew materials, modify holds, cancel holds, pay fines, modify your contact information, and modify your PIN. You can also keep lists of titles for whatever reason—things you want to read in the future, or materials you recently used for a research project.

Questions?  Please contact us!

  • Call us at 815-589-2045
  • Email us at