At the Library

Let me start this post by saying that I adore the library. The library is THE SHIZZLE. You know what you can do? You can go online and ask for any book or movie or magazine or ANYTHING, and then click it, then they’ll find it and transport it to the branch of your choosing. Then you can pop by and just pick it up. FOR FREE.

I know, right? Purely amazing.

And if you are my husband, and more tech savvy than I, you can even install some software on your phone, and ask for a book online, then it is delivered to your phone, then you can read it anywhere at any time, then you return it with the click of a button, all for free, and you never even have to leave the couch. AMAZING.

So! We can all agree, the library is great, right?

I have just one fairly minor quibble to discuss here. Last week we wanted to check out Green Eggs and Ham, because next week we are going to the NAC’s concert Green Eggs and Hamadeus, and our kids have (AHEM) actually never read the book, and we figured it would give some good context (and, as Sir Monkeypants wisely pointed out, save us from having to answer a thousand questions DURING the concert, GAH).

So I went online to their awesome system, and looked up Green Eggs and Ham, and it was actually on the shelves at my local branch, which is Hazeldean. I immediately requested a hold on the book, because I wasn’t going to be able to physically get there for a few days and thought this way, they would, you know, hold it for me. Using the hold system.

Now, in a situation like this, what do you think is going to happen? I was number one on the holds list, there were more than 25 copies available throughout the library system, and there was one copy currently on the shelf at the branch I was going to do the pickup at.

Wouldn’t you think that, upon receiving this request, a librarian would be dispatched to walk over to the shelf, pull the book, and put it on the hold shelf?

I sure did, but the answer is no, that is not at all what happened. What happened was that my request went into the system, and the system decided the best thing to do was to transfer a book from a different branch. I kept checking the website, and it would keep saying that Green Eggs and Ham was still on the shelf, currently available, at Hazeldean; meanwhile, my hold copy was “in transit.”

Today I happened to be going to the library and Green Eggs and Ham was not waiting for me on the hold shelf – it was still marked as “in transit” online. So I checked in the kids’ section, and it wasn’t on the shelf there, either. So I went to ask the librarian if perhaps they had pulled it for me, but it hadn’t made it out onto the hold shelf yet, but could I just pick it up since I was there. I explained the whole story about how I had seen online that it was on the shelf, then put it on hold, but yet days later it still wasn’t on the reserved shelf waiting for me.

Then, I got a very polite lecture on how if I see a book is on the shelf in the branch I want, I should NEVER put it on hold, because it’s a waste of resources for the librarian to have to go over and pull the book off the shelf, when I could have just come in and picked it up. And then, she looked it up in the system, and discovered they actually did have the book in the library – it was on the Early Readers shelf, not the Picture Books shelf where I had looked – so she walked over, found it, and pulled it for me.

Now, nothing against the librarian, who was really very polite, and clearly was just trying to highlight to me one of her pet peeves, which is people who use the online request system to request books that are already in their home branch. But I do wish to ask the following questions:

1. Do you use the online request system? If so, have you ever used it just to put a hold on a book, instead of requesting a transfer? Do you think it’s inappropriate to use the request system for holds?

2. Do you think it is a waste of library resources to ask a librarian to pull a book that is just sitting there on the shelf? I really wanted to point out that it was almost as much work for her to look up the book, then walk over and find it on the shelf, then pull it for me, since I couldn’t find it on the shelf myself, anyway.

3. Do you think (leading question here) that a bigger waste of library resources is that the online request system apparently does not give top priority, when filling a request, to books that are already in that branch, but instead decides that an inter-branch transfer is more appropriate? I would love to know what the algorithm is here – are they grabbing a copy to fulfill the request from the first branch that has one, alphabetically? Or perhaps the branch that has had it checked out most recently? You would think that “closest branch” – and nothing could be closer than the actual branch – would be most efficient, wouldn’t you?

Discuss.

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26 thoughts on “At the Library

  1. I don’t have anything to say other than “huh?” (directed at the Library system). I wouldn’t have done it differently than you, and I wouldn’t have known it was a librarian pet peeve and that the system incurs “wasted resources” when you do this. It’s the system that needs fixing, NOT those of us who would make such requests!! So to answer the specific questions:

    1. Yes, we have used it. As far as I know, we’ve used it mainly when a transfer WAS required, though. My wife may have another story.

    2. I do not think it’s a waste of resources if those resources were being used efficiently!

    3. You got it… the broken-@$$ system is the waste of resources.

  2. No no no no no no no no. I’m glad the librarian was polite, but she was one hundred percent WRONG as far as I’m concerned. Okay, I’m transposing bookstore experience to library experience here, but I worked in bookstores for a few years, and I am here to tell you that a computer showing that a book is in the building and on the shelf is NO guarantee that you can show up and find said book in said building on said shelf. You should ABSOLUTELY request the book, and if they’re not smart enough to figure out that they should just get the one from their own damned shelf then it’s their problem. It wouldn’t BE a waste of resources if they used their resources more efficiently.

    Ahem. Here endeth the rant.

  3. I use the on-line request system all the time. Seriously. ALL the time. A Hold is a Hold is a Hold isn’t it? No matter if it’s already in your branch or has to be transferred in from another? I like to know that when I show up, I can just go to the Hold shelf, find my name and there it will be waiting just for me and nobody else.

    I too have been thoroughly confused when I have requested a Hold on a book that is currently at my branch and then see that it is being sent in from another. I assumed there was some sort of logical reason for this, but apparently there is not. Terribly inefficient isn’t it? So, someone has to pull it off the shelf, load it into a crate, then the crate gets put in a van, that gets filled with gas, and drives across the city where it is unloaded, and put on the shelf. OR, someone at my branch could walk 20 feet and put it on the shelf and I’ll use my own gas and car to go pick it up. sheesh.

    • I forgot to mention in my little rant above, that despite the above noted inefficiency, I ADORE the library – my branch is Centennial and everyone there is super-helpful and friendly.

  4. I absolutely put books that are at my local branch on hold. Who knows what will happen between the time you check the online catalog and you get to the library? Agree with everyone else – it’s their system that’s broken.

  5. Yes, yes and yes. This has happened to me. And, yes, if I see the book on the shelf at my branch I still put a hold on it because this is a voraciously reading, competitive neighbourhood and lots of people can get there before me.

    It occurs to me, if they can’t make the system cover all eventualities, there should be two options. One would be “reserve next available book” and it would come from wherever and go to that special alphabetical hold shelf, and the other would be “hold book in my branch” and the librarian could go and pick it off the shelf and keep it next to him / her for a specified period of time (three hours?) for you to pick up and if you haven’t picked it up in that time it goes back onto the shelf.

    One would trigger the “system” to go into action, the second would just notify a librarian in your branch.

    I’m sure it would be better to just fix the system but, sadly, these things often seem complicated to fix.

    • Now that is a great idea. This is exactly what I want – the ability to request a transfer, and the separate ability to request a hold. The librarian in the Green Eggs and Ham story did tell me that in cases where you see the book is already on the shelf, and “it’s an emergency – like, you’re a teacher or something and you need it right away for a class or a project” – then you can call the library branch directly and ask the librarian to pull it off the shelf and hold it at the desk for a few hours.

      But what I want is the ability to put it on hold for a day or two, until I can get there. Can’t they get a few high school co-ops for that?

  6. I use the hold system all the time and yes, sometimes I do place holds on books that are at my home branch (Main, Rideau, or Alta Vista depending on how my life is structured at any given time) but that’s mostly because I’m worried that some other person will come along and snatch it.

      • Pet peeve of one self-important librarian, maybe. Are you sure she is representing the library’s position or just her own?

        • I love libraries! They’re these little bastions of socialism in our capitalist culture.

          “Do you think it is a waste of library resources to ask a librarian to pull a book that is just sitting there on the shelf?” — It’s not like the book that was transferred to your branch just wafted off the shelf and began to magically wend it’s way to you. Some OTHER library employee (who could also be considered “a library resource”) did the leg work to retrieve and process the hold.

          I agree with CapnPlanet. That librarian (btw, she might not be a librarian which is a professional designation for those with degrees in library science, but rather a “library clerk”) needs an attitude adjustment. The fault likes with their computer system not with patrons.

  7. Oh yes, I absolutely put books on hold that are on the shelf at my branch. However, I’m a queen bitch and don’t really care about the consequences of my actions.

    But I do recognize it’s not good use of the pages’ time. (Note to non-library workers. The pages are the people who do the book filing and pulling. I used to be one for many years.)

    Yes, the system isn’t doing things optimally by putting the branch book on hold, but I have to point out that the OPL online system is really frickin’ good. Great design. Really reliable. So I forgive it if it has this one (and a few other) flaws.

    • Agreed. I LOVE the library, they make it so easy and the online nature of the reserve system is brilliant. I love that I can suspend my holds if I’m going on vacation and I love that I can track everything. So yes, this one thing is really a very small complaint in a big sea of love :).

      • “I’m a queen bitch and don’t really care about the consequences of my actions”. HA. As if I didn’t already want to be FameThrowa. And I love the library too, and the thing is, it’s not that big a deal that this part of the system is wonky, except when librarians bitch about it as if it’s OUR problem.

  8. YES I love the library. YES I use the hold system (my suspended holds, after severe winnowing, now rest at 67 items), and I ABSOLUTELY put holds on items that are on the shelf at my branch. Who is to say they won’t disappear before you get there?

    I had a similar talk with a librarian (minus the chastisement, however polite), and she said that, when a hold is in the system, it gets pulled from the shelf by the first branch that happens to go to the hold list. Which also explains why, say, I can put a hold on an item that is available but only at one branch, and I can wait a week before it starts into transit. There is no good reason that the system can’t do exactly what you described, and what’s more, it could notice that the item is at the branch where you plan to pick up, and NOT tell the librarian to get it for you, but list it in your holds as being held for you on the regular shelf, if the concern is with using the library resources.

    I also love the library, but I’ll never forget my own little smack down at my branch: I asked if the library was on Twitter, and was tartly told that Twitter was where people tell each other what they had for breakfast. That would be roughly a month before @OPL_BPO arrived on the scene. I still don’t know what they ate for breakfast, though. :)

    • Huh, interesting. So the librarians have to look at the hold list and then check to see if they have it, and if so, they “grab” the hold? I would have thought the computer system decides which branch to get it from, then just notifies that branch that they’re on deck. Interesting.

      Also, re: twitter – HA HA HA HA HA!

  9. Love love love the hold system. I put holds on stuff that’s in my branch all the time, because most of the time, I don’t even check to see where there’s a copy on the shelf. I just put holds on everything I want. Then they appear on my shelf.

    If I understand it correctly, the system will request a copy from YOUR library if it’s on the shelf, the morning after you place the hold. But, in the meantime, if an available copy of the same book goes through the system at all (anywhere), it will grab that copy for you.

    The librarian wasn’t really giving you accurate information. First, librarians aren’t the ones that will be getting your holds, pages /shelvers do that (for approximately 1/2 the salary). And they do a ton of them at a time. So while they’re pulling the book for you, they’re also in that section pulling the books for other people. Second, you never want to assume that the book the system says is there, is actually there.

    So either take the chance that it’s gone by the time you get there, take the chance that it will end up coming from Orleans, or request your books online some time between 9p and midnight :) ~that’s what I do…

  10. We understand that it may seem odd that a request was not filled by an item in the same location. I’m sure you can appreciate that collecting holds from shelves across the Library system is based on a complex algorithm within our computer system. Each morning a list of requested items is generated. Items are normally grouped within delivery runs, and depending on availability, will then be filled elsewhere in the system. The timing of when the list is generated by branch is also a factor. Without getting into the nitty gritty, rest assured that we strive to work within the best practice.

    • Oh I do – thanks for the response, and rest assured, I really do adore the system and the way the whole thing works. It’s one small complaint in an ocean of good feeling :). I suspect the strangeness of this one particular case only happened because I was asking for a book of which many copies were available. Thanks for the good work you do!

  11. I def think the system is the problem. And as a person who works in IT I can promise you that the system can work in the correct way. It is only code after all.

  12. I adore the library and the online holds system – to be honest, i never check where the book is when I place the hold cause I’m not usually in a rush (my local branch is one of the smaller ones anyways). I can see this being frustrating but overall (as you say too, it’s a big sea of love!) I think the system as is, works pretty great.

  13. I use the library all the time – but only for eBooks these days. I suppose if there were a book I really wanted to read, I might go into the branch to pick it up, but being able to check out and return books from my couch pretty much is all I need. The hold system for eBooks is awesome – they e-mail you as soon as the book is ready and you have something like 3 days to check it out. You can have 10 books out at once, and choose whether to check them out for 1, 2, or 3 weeks. (You can return them early as well, but I haven’t figured out how to extend it if necessary.)

    The library also has sessions on how to use ereaders if you’re interested in figuring out how to read books on your phone. :) But it wouldn’t help with Green Eggs & Ham.

    (BTW, I totally would put a book on hold even if I knew it was on the shelf in my closest branch, and I fail to understand why that is more work for the librarians than having to pull the book to transfer it to a different branch.)

  14. Not only is the library awesome, but they left a comment!! (Also, yeah, of course I put holds on books in my own library. Why not? If we’re not supposed to, then the system shouldn’t let us do it.)

  15. I love the library. I’m there all the time. I put holds on stuff all the time, renew items of paranoia, not necessity, and sometimes I even try to re-shelve items myself. I trained as an archivist, but secretly longed to be a librarian. They must hate me.

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