I recently had an interesting experience at my local library that I wanted to share. Right by the door is a stand of books that I have never really paid attention to. As I walked into the library on this particular day I happened to glance over and immediately spotted The Fate of the Tearling – which happens to be a book that I have on hold. It’s the third book in a series by Erika Johansen that came out at the end of 2016 – and I have patiently been waiting for the book to come in. A little mystified, I doubled checked on my library app – and yes, I definitely have this book on hold. I’m 17th in line for the book. And yet, here I was with the book in my hand.
I went over to ask the librarian how this could happen, and she explained to me that this book is part of the “Browsing Collection.” These are books that are essentially kept out of the regular collection (and therefore are not caught by the hold list) so that the book is available for those who just want to “browse.” And I mean they are literally kept out of the collection – catalogued with no name or author so that they cannot be searched or placed on hold.
I’m really torn about this. On one hand, I totally understand the logic. It’s nice to have the book available to anyone who wanders through the library. There are currently 24 holds on the book, and assuming we all have the book for an average of 2 weeks, it would be almost a year before that book would be able to sit on the shelf for browsing. Holds effectively take the book out of circulation for a year, and creating a browsing collection makes the book more accessible.
But on the other hand, we all placed this book on hold for a reason: we want to read it. Most likely, we want to read it more than someone who is wandering through the library and thinks that maybe it looks good. Plus this is the third book in a series. We’ve probably read the first two, and are now waiting for that hold to come in so that we can read the third. And what the library is saying is that we, the people who most definitely want to read the book, all have to wait in a line for that book to come available. Yet someone else who quite possibly does not want to read the book as much as us can get it right away.
I mean, hey, I get to jump the line. I wandered in, I saw the book, and rather than waiting for 16 people ahead of me to read the book, I get to read it right now. Of course I’m excited! But… What about person number 16? Imagine if I ran into person 16 right now: “Hey! So I was supposed to get this book after you, but instead I have it now! But YOU get to wait for 15 people to read it first.” How would that make them feel? Think of it this way: if you were standing in a line to get a coffee, and you had to wait for 15 people to order before you, and then some person just waltzed in and got their coffee before everyone else, there would be outrage. In a library, what is the point of a hold list if it’s not to get the book first? Is this not the entire point of a hold list, is to guarantee that you can get the book, and get it because you are next in line, and get it before the person in line after you? I would be upset if someone jumped the line in front of me, and now I am that person. I jumped the line, and I feel uncomfortable with it.
I genuinely feel this “browsing collection” undermines the concept of a hold list. Patrons wait very patiently for months – months – for books to come in through the hold list. I myself have checked and double-checked hold lists and done a countdown: 5 people in front of me… 4 people in front of me… eagerly waiting in anticipation of finally getting the book. Yet while we all sit patiently, some other person gets to take home the book, someone who didn’t have to wait. If you’re going to have a hold list then honour the list. Don’t give the book to someone else.
I can’t change the way my library provides their books. They’ve decided this collection is the best way to serve their patrons, and I have to live with that. But you can bet that I’ll be paying a little bit more attention to that stand of books by the door.