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

Reference Question of the Week – 6/30/14

   July 5th, 2014

hard choicesI like to have somewhat topical posts around holidays, and I just had this exchange with a patron on Thursday that seemed vaguely Patriotic (at least, Government-related).

A patron called and asked if we could hold Hillary Clinton's new book Hard Choices for her. I looked it up in the catalog, and asked for her library card number so I could place the hold.

After I did, she asked me what time we were open until that night, so she could come pick it up.

Me: Oh no, I'm sorry but there's a waiting list.
Patron: Okay, so I can pick it up on Monday?
Me: No - all system copies are checked out, and there are 100 people ahead of you on the wait list for it.
Patron: A hundred? Sheesh, she'll be President by that time.

I thought that was funny, but also funny is that 100 holds isn't very many. Still, it's frustrating to see us wiped out of a resource.


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6 Responses to “Reference Question of the Week – 6/30/14”

  1. The Librarian With No Name Says:

    Hey, Herzog is back! Hurrah!

    Does the 39 total copies refer to the entire Merrimack Consortium? Because if I’m reading this right, you’ve got 39 copies of HRC’s book out of 3 million total items, while my system has 14 copies in a 1 million item consortium. So my Oklahoma library system has a slightly higher proportion of Hillary Clinton biographies than your Massachusetts consortium. Which would be weird, considering our states’ somewhat divergent views on Clintons in general.

    If it’s just talking about the Chelmsford collection, then you’ve got a Hillary concentration roughly 7 times greater, which is closer to what I’d assume. Also: we’ve got 59 holds, which makes for a waiting list considerably longer than yours.

    Library patrons: bucking trends.

  2. Brian Herzog Says:

    @The Librarian: thanks, and thank you for the comment. For us, the 39 copies is for the entire consortium of 36 libraries. Most are every small, hence only one copy – we don’t really do any joint collection development, but we do lend freely amongst the network.

    It is interesting how interest varies regionally. Another librarian, from Texas, emailed me to say, “This so emphasizes the difference in reading habits between different areas of the country. There are 12 of us in our catalog and so far we only have 2 copies of the book and only one hold.”

    I’m sure that marketers would love to get actual demand data like this.

  3. Mara Says:

    Tell the customer the stats. There are 100 holds for 39 copies, so she’s roughly number four for each. Fourth in line doesn’t sound so bad.

  4. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Mara: oh, if it were only that simple. Our consortium has “opportunistic holds” turned on in Evergreen, which includes a feature that holds are filled based on where items end up. So, if the patron is #100 and has chosen to pick up her hold in my library, but none of the people before her are picking it up in my library and someone returns a copy to my library, she gets it before everyone else. The theory is that this reduces the time items spend being shuttled between libraries (not being enjoyed by patrons) by filling all holds wherever items are, and then moving on.

    The system seems to work, but it makes it all but impossible to estimate wait times. Luckily for Chelmsford patrons, I suppose, Chelmsford is a busy library with lots of returns (even from other libraries), so their holds are filled relatively quickly.

  5. Doug Cooper Says:

    The lines for “The Light Between Oceans”, “Gone Girl” and “The Goldfinch” have been longer.
    “Hard Choices” is a weighty tome… so I wonder how many renewal attempts or overdues will happen.

    I know that I should be aware of how holds are filled in MVLC but I’m confused. Some libraries, like Andover, have books to go that are available to people browsing in the library.

  6. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Doug: true, we definitely have items with longer waiting lists – this just happened to be the one this patron wanted.

    Also true that Andover (and many other MVLC libraries) have a “books to go” collection (in my library, they’re called “fast tracks” and other libraries call them different things). Those are books that can’t be requested or renewed and only circulate for one week, so it’s just sort of the luck of the draw if they’re available when a patron comes in the library. Generally those are bestsellers to help with long hold queues of popular books.

    I think the only MVLC policy regarding those is that a library has to have at least one holdable copy (to share with the rest of the consortium) if they’re going to have non-holdable fast track books.