or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk

Stay-At-Home Library

   January 27th, 2011

Library in a messy homeLots of great comments on my previous post about emptying the book box on long weekends - thanks everyone. I plan to bring some of those ideas up with my coworkers, but one comment* reminded me of something else entirely. Laura said:

I know this wouldn’t solve all the long weekend/book drop problems, but what about adjusting due dates so that books don’t come due for one or two days either side of a long weekend. [...]

Laura's comment reminded me of an idea I had long ago (and may have mentioned here before) for a community "stay-at-home" circulation model.

The basic idea is that, when someone checks out a book, they just keep it at their house until the next person needs it. They would get their guaranteed loan period (three weeks or whatever), but then when another person put a request on that item, the first patron would be notified to return it to the library - be it in four weeks or two years.

When the item got checked back in by staff, then the second patron would be notified it was ready for pickup at the library, and then that patron would hang on to the item until someone else requested it.

Crazy, right? I could see this working in the case of a library building project (as a way to keep books accessible and in circulation when the actual library itself is closed to the public), or if a small library wanted to maintain a collection far larger than what the physical building itself can hold.

Of course there is always the risk of library materials getting damaged or lost because they're sitting in peoples' homes longer, rather than on library shelves. But really, we take that risk every time we check something out, and I think part of the program would be to educate patrons to know that they are absolutely responsible for the condition and safekeeping of that item, no matter how long they end up keeping it.

It couldn't be mandatory, of course - if someone didn't want library books in their house for seven months, they could bring them back somewhere. But for those that did keep them, the recall notification process would ideally be automated calls/emails, and I don't know if our ILS could even handle such a thing.

Okay, admittedly, this idea has flaws (i.e., you lose your browsing collection, immediate gratification, and the ability to help all those kids that come in the night before their homework is due). I just think it would be such a great way to really involve the community in the library - the library itself would actually exists within the community members' homes.


*I like Laura's idea as a way to deal with long weekends, although I'm not sure it would work for us - we don't charge overdue fines, so the people returning books probably are just done with them, and aren't necessarily pushing to get them in under the due date.

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7 Responses to “Stay-At-Home Library”

  1. Amy L. Campbell Says:

    I like the community library idea more for the fiction collection than the non-fiction. People are pretty unpredictable in their non-fiction needs and if it’s on an embarrassing topic they may not even want to have the book on their record. Still, it would be interesting to see how well it would work.

    Maybe for the long weekend problem you could just ask patrons not to drop off materials? Is your library considering a drop box attached to the building? That would at least solve the problem of damage to the books.

  2. Catherine Says:

    The “stay-at-home” library is already the de facto situation for faculty loans at many academic libraries: faculty get one-year loan periods with unlimited renewals, but books are subject to recall after a certain minimum period. In practice, many faculty have bookshelves lined with library books they dutifully renew, year after year.

  3. walt crawford Says:

    For academic libraries, this might make sense. For me, as a public library user, I’d be horrified: I get 99% of my books by browsing the shelves, and like it that way.

  4. Liz Says:

    This is a pretty clever idea, and like others noted, would be especially useful for academic libraries.

    However, being a patron and having never worked in a library, I agree with what Walt mentioned above. Usually some specific purpose urges me to the library – a particular book I want to check out, a subject I want to learn more about, etc – but once I’m there, I like to explore and browse the shelves.

    Also, I tend to be impetuous and when I discover something I want, I want it NOW. This is probably fairly common with people who grew up as I did, in the days of USA Today and dial-up internet, and probably even more common with younger people who had high-speed internet, info-at-their-fingers from grade school.

    For me, and probably moreso for them, the “stay-at-home” circulation system, in which a request would be sent and I couldn’t check out the material right then, would be extremely frustrating.

    It’s like going to a bookstore and asking about a book to buy, and they say “We don’t have it in stock, but we could order it for you?” Dude, if I wanted to order the book I could do that at home – but thank you for offering.

    The problem I see with this system is that it seems to assume that patrons are logical, know what they want, and plan ahead. Lots of times it’s going and flipping through physical materials that entices people to check them out.

    For instance, Brian metnioned displays in an earlier post – books prominently set out before the patrons tends to make them curious about that book and check out something they otherwise might never have known was there.

    So yes, I agree it’s a great solution for small communities without physical collections and academic communities, but as a patron – oh man, it would drive me totally nuts. xD

  5. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Liz: I agree, I like having books people want right on the shelf where they can have them. However, as to:

    “Dude, if I wanted to order the book I could do that at home – but thank you for offering.”

    We get a ton of people who request things from home. Especially in the evenings, lots of patrons coming to the library do nothing but go to circ desk to pick up a hold that we notified them is now available. For those people, I don’t think it would matter if we requested the item from another library or had to recall it from someone’s house.

    People use libraries in different ways and for different reasons, so no one model will fit for everyone. I think @Amy’s idea of doing this only for certain parts of the collection is probably the most workable – figuring out which parts is the tricky bit.

  6. Liz Says:

    @ Brian: That’s a good point. While I don’t order books at bookstores, I do occasionally request them from the library and pick them up when they’re in.

    And who told you you could post a picture of my apartment?!?!?! ;D (Ironically the last book I requested from the library was on organizing)

  7. Lynn Says:

    One of the members of our Consortium does this for a highly specialized set of materials (library science, ironically). Guaranteed use period is 3 weeks but you can have the item indefinitely until someone else requests it.

    Several other members of our Consortium have browsing collections that do not permit holds at all. These are used for popular fiction and non-fiction, with the occasional juvenile or young adult item thrown in when required.

    Both types of collections provide a nice balance.