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 Brian Herzog

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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Amazon Request List

   August 28th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Amazon 1st To Know logoIt seems like I learn of a new web tool or website feature every day.

A patron had missed seeing Hellboy II in theaters, and asked to be placed on hold for on the DVD. Since it's not out yet, or even close to being out yet, I told him I couldn't place a hold in our catalog.

The next obvious question is when is the DVD coming out. Usually I use the "DVD Details" section of IMDB.com for that, but in this case they didn't have the information. So I tried Amazon, and this is where I learned something new.

They didn't have a release date either, but they did have a record for it - and it let people add themselves to the list so they'll be notified when it is available. Amazon calls this their "1st To Know" notification service, which I thought it a great idea.

I didn't go through the steps, but I'm guessing that putting yourself on the list is also committing to buy a copy. But even still, I like that they are flexible enough to accommodate anticipated need.

Which is unlike most library systems. In my library's catalog, patrons can place holds on items as soon as we put an "on order" record in the catalog, but we try not to put in on order records too far ahead of time.

On order records for books aren't too bad, but movies are a whole different story.

Because we have different records for wide screen and full screen and director's cut and 10th anniversary re-releases and every other possible iteration, putting a record in too early means we might end up with holds for something we can't actually get. Or, if we buy the wide screen release and every other library in my consortium buys the full screen version, patrons with holds on the wide screen will have to wait for their turn, even if they don't care if they get the wide or full screen version.

Being able to get an idea of demand early on would help in knowing how many copies the library should buy, but this whole version thing is something we haven't found a good fix for yet. Amazon selling DVDs is certainly different than a library loaning DVDs, but there has got to be something we can learn from their model to serve library patrons better.

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Interlibrary Loaning

   July 3rd, 2008 Brian Herzog

Library Hold ShelfI was sad to read a recent post on Walking Paper, quoting someone who was unhappy with their local library's interlibrary loan record.

Any bad library experience is a blow, but especially so with interlibrary loan: I personally think the ability to freely lend library items across the country is one of our greatest strengths, and one definite thing that sets us apart from other local groups and for-profit organizations.

And honestly, I always get a bizarre little thrill when someone calls to request a book. I like knowing I can pull a book from the shelf, print a hold slip, and put that book on the hold shelf. Then, another staff member will continue to forward that book on to the patron, be it a local patron or someone in another state. Dorky, I know, but I like that sense of being part of a system.

But back to the comments: unfortunately, everything cited is (or can be) true. Requests can take time to fill. Books do go missing. Most ILSs don't provide an easy way to communicate problems upstream. Sometimes, the best a local staff person can do is mark their local copy missing and hope the request is filled by another library.

But that shouldn't be the best we can do. To capitalize on our unique network, and to compete with modern options like NetFlix, any new system (software and people) should be designed to optimize interlibrary loan, not just allow for it. Massachusetts is at least lucky that we have a (mostly-)state-wide catalog, but there is plenty of room for improvement.

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