Posts tagged ‘holds’

On holds at the library…

Librarian in Black Sara Houghton-Jan posted A Treatise on the Black Market of Holds a week or so ago, and it got me thinking. I was just going to comment on her blog, but my response was getting pretty wordy so I figured I’d put it here instead. The basic gist of her post:

We have created a two class system in our libraries: those who know about the hold system and are willing to pay the hold fee for the privilege of material-borrowing -and- those who come in to our libraries to browse and/or don’t know about the hold system, assuming that what they see on the shelf is an accurate representation of what we actually have.

Now, I am fortunate enough to work in a library that does not charge for holds. As a consequence, we have a very active holds queue. Is it a perfect system? No. But I think it works pretty well. It’s a gross over-simplification, but essentially we make our libraries relevant and stake our territory in the marketplace by offering great service and collections for free (or cheap, as the case may be). Convenience is currency. Why do so many people have Netflix accounts? Because they can add items to their queue when they think about it and then forget about them. They can keep items as long as they want and aren’t bothered about late fees. (Honestly, I’m very intrigued by the idea of going completely fine-free, but that’s a whole other post as it raises a bunch of other issues. )

To stay on track with Sarah’s post, I’ll just say that as the Web Services Librarian at MPOW I’m always concerned with reaching the customers who rarely or never make it into the library, and one of the ways we do that is by making our services more convenient and accessible from outside the physical library. I know that we get more users because we allow people to place holds on items and notify them when those holds are available. (We’re looking at the possibility of mailing holds to our customers, which could be even better). We currently shelve our holds in a self-service pick-up area, near our self-service and full-service checkout stations. If a customer so chooses, they might never come much further than the front door, and might never interact personally with a staff member. And you know what? That’s okay! We’re right there with friendly and helpful staff for the people who want and need us. For the people who don’t, we want to make it as easy as possible for them to get what they DO want from the library.

I think it’s a great service, and a large number of our customers take full advantage of it. We promote the service heavily to the customers who do choose to come in the library, and many of them are thrilled to find out about it. For those who choose not to place holds, that’s okay. We won’t force them! It’s really their choice. We still have a great collection of new titles that might not make the NY Times or LA Times Bestseller lists and are therefore more likely to be on the shelf. The browsers aren’t faced with empty shelves, and they’re not stuck with just the “dregs” of the collection, either. We do have some items we don’t allow holds for (e.g. 1-day DVDs – basically new releases), and people still have trouble finding those items on the shelves when they come in the library. Then they’re more upset because they had to make the trip to the library and didn’t get what they wanted anyway.

It’s tricky – I understand that we need to try to balance the needs of all of our customers, and really try not to leave anyone out in the cold. That’s especially true when money is the dividing issue. But if we eliminate the practice of placing holds we just alienate a different group of users. If you haven’t already, make sure to read the comment thread on Sarah’s post – several commenters had great ideas and practices for improving the balance and fairness. I’ll be recommending some of these at my library.

I don’t want to make light of this issue: I understand that finding a good solution can be much more difficult for the libraries that don’t have the budget to buy a lot of copies of bestsellers or supplement their collections in other ways. I think that’s all the more reason to exercise our creativity and look for new solutions and service models that help us do a better job of juggling the needs of all of our customers.

I’m grateful to Sarah for her post, because it got me thinking about something that I tend to take for granted, and now I feel the creative juices flowing. I can’t say that I’ll come up with anything new and brilliant, but if I think of anything good I promise I’ll share!

December 22, 2007 at 6:29 pm


"To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong." - Pearce

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