Hello Korio
05. 03. 2021

I mentioned in another post that I do not buy a lot of books. It’s not that I don’t want to own books (it is, it is that I don’t want to own books), but owning the number of books I would end up owning would be impractical on so many fronts.

First of all, we only have one bookshelf, and it is in my child’s room. She owns a lot of books. I cannot resist a Scholastic flier or a book fair and I’m not sorry. She also came into my bedroom the other day and said to me, “Didn’t you say you’d buy me anything I want as long as it’s a book?” Hmm, yes… that does sound like something I’d say. The manga has begun to arrive.

Second of all, I moved a bunch after college and then I married a guy in the military, and I’ve moved so many times. So many times. Moving books is the most hateful thing. Such a pain to pull off the shelves and gather from all around the house. So many very small, very heavy boxes. Such a pain to put BACK on the shelves.

Third of all, series. What if I buy one book of a series and it’s got a number on the spine, but I don’t like it, or I start it and don’t end up picking it back up to finish until some other time, and it’s just sitting there on my shelf with a number on it, clearly part of a set, and I don’t have the rest of the set, and it’s just existing in my house, INCOMPLETE? Who can live like that? I’d never sleep again.

Fourth of all, the way I read is a combination of mood reader/trend reader/obligation reader and it’s just inefficient to buy books — I can’t afford to buy them 15 – 20 at a time knowing that I’ll only read a few of them any time soon, leaving the rest to multiply in the night in my house, which they do. Even as a non-book buyer, every day in this house I come across a book that must be mine, because I am the one who lives here, but I have no idea when or where I acquired it or what made me acquire it in the first place and the obvious answer — book sex in the night.

The library is the solution for me. I can take out as many books as I want, read them, or read a chapter of them, or not read them at all, and send them back when I’m done. If I really liked something, I can get it again. If I thought I might like something but didn’t get to it, I can renew it, or get it again. If I started something and it wasn’t for me, I can send it back, and later if someone insists that I definitely will like it if I give it another chance, I can get it again. Nothing is gone forever, but in the meantime, someone else is storing it for me. Bless a library and all their shelves for storing all the books I have read and might want to read again, or meant to read but didn’t get a chance to, or started to read and thought maybe I’d like it better another time.

Okay, I understand that the library is not my personal book storage, but also… isn’t it? It kind of is.

I’ve talked about my extensive and obsessive holds management on a couple of platforms and it’s become clear that some people either aren’t using library holds at all, aren’t using them to their full power, or are very bad at using them. Elizabeth. So I’ve decided to do my best to tell you how I use them, though I appreciate that my methods might not be for everyone. If you just like going to the library and wandering and choosing a few books that happen to be there, that’s fine. If you only use holds when you’re after a popular book with a waitlist, that’s fine, too. If you’re suffering from “fuck, all my holds came in at once and I have normal human life obligations” syndrome, I can help you with that. If you’ve never used holds, don’t know what you can do with them, oh boy, let’s do this.

How holds work.

First, for those of you who have never used holds at all, you might think the holds system is limited to just waiting in line for a popular book, and you can absolutely use it that way. A sort of “set it and forget it” type of thing, where you place a hold on a book and you’re 253rd in line and you just go about your life until the library alerts you that it’s your turn. Then you go and get it. Very handy.

What you may not know is that you’re not limited to placing holds just on books not currently physically in the library. I mean, most of you probably know, but bear with me, we should bring everyone along on the library holds system journey, even the ones totally new to the concept.

In reality, what you can do is basically online shop for your books. Search the online catalog while logged into your library account and when you find something you want, you should be offered the option to place a hold. If you live in an area with interlibrary loan, this can include books that are at other branches, even really inconveniently located branches. There doesn’t have to be a waitlist for the book — it’s fine if you’re the only one interested and it’s just sitting on the shelf in there. Of course, you could use the online search to see if it’s just sitting on the shelf in there and just walk in and get it yourself, but you don’t have to.

Once you’ve submitted a hold, or 15 holds, or 50 holds, the librarians will go and get them off the shelves, if they’re physically present in your home branch, and if they’re not there but they are physically present in another branch, they will order them for you. In my library system, the inter-library loan… vehicle? — I want to imagine it’s a cargo van painted with books but it’s probably some boring car with a small library system logo on it because no one likes fun or wants to see me live my dreams — travels between all the branches once or twice a weekday and delivers all the requested books to the home branch of the person who requested it. When your books are ready, the library will alert you.

I don’t know about your branch, but mine is not especially economical with the notifications — I have been on the phone making a doctor’s appointment only to have my phone go off with 15 texts in a row. “So — Sor — Sor — SORRY — just a sec — just — hang on — sorry — just a — okay. Sorry about that. Library books.”

Then you just go into the library and they’re all waiting for you at the counter, like curbside pickup. Except it’s books, not hamburgers.

I bet they could make a KILLING if it was also hamburgers, though.

When I first started doing this and the numbers of books I was requesting at a time started creeping higher and higher, I worried that I was being a real pain in a librarian’s ass. However, I have since been assured by multiple sources that one, taking out lots of books is good — the more books are circulating, the more it helps the library’s budget. I don’t know how, that’s why it’s called library science, you need experts to explain that part. Moreover, the task of wandering through the library pulling the requested books off the shelves is one of the less tedious tasks one might find in a library. So really, have fifteen or twenty books at a time. It’s your job to boost circulation numbers, and it’s their job to get your books for you, and they PROMISED me they don’t hate it.

Holds can be active — they’ll pull the book for you as soon as it’s available, even the same day if it’s in the building right then, or suspended — you have taken your place in line (even the first place in line), but don’t want the book right now for whatever reason. Anyone else requesting the book can have it, and people behind you in line will jump over you, but if you’re 3rd in line when you place and suspend your hold, you are 3rd in line when you activate your hold.

How I use holds.

When I am specifically looking for book recommendations or watching booktube videos or scrolling through bookstagram or doing anything at all that is exposing me to a lot of books I haven’t read but might like to, I always have my library account open in another tab. I search the book and if I find it, I put it on hold and immediately suspend the hold. By the time I’m done dicking around online for the night, I’ve usually added 10-20 suspended holds to my list.

Once I’m done, I check in to see where I stand with everything.

If I’m way far back on the list, I’ll usually immediately unsuspend the hold so that I keep moving along the list as people take their turns. Also, this may be particular to my library system, I don’t know, but the “on XX copies” is never accurate. I don’t know how they’re counting their copies of books — best I can figure, it includes the physical books, the ebooks, the audiobooks, whatever versions they have. Even then, I assure you, there are not 95 copies of a single book in this small town library system. Some of them will say I’m hold #5 on 0 copies, all while cheerfully moving people along the line. If there are zero copies, what are you lending, library? I don’t know what that’s about, but it’s weird and I ignore it. Point is, if I’m something like #141 on a supposed but suspicious 95 copies, I know I’m not making it to number one soon. I’ll keep an eye on my place and as I finally get to number 4, 3, 2, etc, I’ll either leave it unsuspended, or suspend it then to hold my place at the front if I’m not quite ready for it.

Next I look at the ones where I don’t care where I am in the line, first or millionth, I want it as soon as it’s available, and unsuspend those, as well. Our trips to the library will revolve around when the books I am most excited for become available. These could be new releases or backlist, doesn’t matter, I don’t know what’s going to blow my skirt up at any given time.

Everything. Else. Stays suspended. Poor management of the suspend feature is how you end up with your book cycle synced up to a reader of similar style who also is poor at holds management, landing you repeatedly in the “oh fuck, all my holds came in at once and I have normal human obligations” situation over and over again.

This does not happen to me, do you know why? Because I am an expert at holds management and also I have no normal human obligations.

My negotiation with suspended holds revolves around my husband, really — trying to minimize his trips to the library because I can’t drive — I do want you to know, though, and I don’t know why it’s important to me that you know but it is, that I can drive, I am capable of driving a car, it’s just that at the moment, I don’t have a license, because when my husband was in the military, I was allowed to have an expired license, and when he retired, I had to get an updated license, and it had been so long since I’d had a valid license (my expired license was technically valid!) that I actually had to retest and reapply, which involved getting my doctor to sign off, and she was like “oh, honey, no.” I didn’t get my license taken away, I just… have not yet gained the medical authorization to possess a driver’s license again.

I know how to drive a car! I’m just not allowed!

My suspended books are my fill in books. If I wanted/needed them the second they were available, I wouldn’t have them suspended. Rather, they’re just things that caught my interest for one reason or another and I mean to get to them at some point. Sometimes books languish on there for so long that by the time I get them, I am getting books from when I was deep in an “oh yeah I’m definitely going to be a thriller person” phase and turns out I was wrong. Eight months ago.

When one of my non-suspended holds that I want right away becomes available, I look through my suspended holds and see where they’re at — this does involve tediously clicking on each link to see how many physical copies there actually are and what branches have them. If my husband is going to return some books due that day, I’ll unsuspend some holds that I’m the only person in line for that are also available at my specific branch — if I do that in the morning, they’ll be ready for him to pick up after work. I don’t like to send him in for just one book, even though he also assures me that library business is no chore, since it’s directly on his way to and from work.

No, I have to engage in my LEAST favorite book trope — “I have to do what I think is best for you even though you have given absolutely no indication that you need or want me to be high handed in this manner as you are perfectly capable of deciding what’s best for you on your own.”

If I know I have books that have to go back within a few days, I’ll also unsuspend some holds that are located at other branches — they usually show up within a day, two at most. If I think they’ll arrive at my branch before books in my possession need to be returned, I’ll switch them to active so they have a chance to arrive, saving Phillip a trip. Well, in theory. In reality, I still send him to the library with obnoxious frequency, but I do my best. Books that get pulled have a few days grace period where they stay reserved for you, so this is where I practice my most intricate juggling — when things I have must go back, how long I have before the things that have been pulled for me will be given to the next people on the list or put back on the shelves, how many books I have coming from other libraries and when I think they might arrive and sometimes — sometimes — I’ll check when a book I am next in line for is due to be returned, and take a gamble on the person who has it actually returning it on time and unsuspend that one, too.

I’ll be honest, that last bit fails a bunch, especially now that books are being held in quarantine for 72 hours once they’re returned. That’s usually the reason Phil ends up at the library twice a week.

Here is the personal nonsense part.

I send books back almost as soon as I’m done with them, and I try to make it so Phil doesn’t go to the library to drop things off without also having a stack waiting there for him to collect. I’m efficient. My bed is also usually absolutely covered in library books that he unceremoniously throws onto my legs when he gets in bed at night (by “absolutely covered,” I mean I put them in my book storage, and by my book storage, I mean Phil’s side of the bed).

I have to keep pretty good track of due dates, too, because the books come in to me in batches, but they don’t leave me in the same batches. I almost never renew a whole set at once — if I know I’m just not going to pick it up soon, I send it back. I can always get it again. If I finished one from a batch of books I got two days ago and one from a batch of books I got three weeks ago, I’ll send them back together (and of course more come home, with yet another due date). It is absolutely unreasonable of me to tell you, a person with normal human obligations, to keep track of 15+ books, all with different due dates and different numbers of renewals left and absolutely nothing able to be efficiently batched together to make sure books are read and returned in an orderly fashion to suit your probably pretty orderly life. The way I do things is absolute nonsense and no one could reasonably be expected to obsessively manage their holds in such a manner, but I THINK IT WOULD BE REAL COOL IF YOU DID.

In exchange for putting up with my nonsense, I will tell you a cool trick — as soon as you hear about an upcoming book that you’re very interested in, search your library for it. If they’ve ordered it, it will say “on order,” which means… they ordered it. They don’t have it because it’s not out yet. You can drop yourself right into the first in line spot for that book as soon as it arrives. YOU FIRST.

And? And? And? If the library does not have the book on order you can just REQUEST THAT THEY BUY IT. And this varies from library system to library system, but chances are good that they will! Then get in line! And store your new book at the library in your personal book storage!

I am interested to hear how you are using library holds. Not at all, just browsing the shelves in person and picking up what looks interesting? Only for popular books where you want to make sure you’re in line? OBSESSIVELY AND IN A DEEPLY, DEEPLY COOL FASHION, LIKE MYSELF?

Thank you for your attention to my library neurosis.

21 responses to “Obsessively managing library holds.”

  1. heidi says:

    Although my system is not quite as complex as yours, it is similar in the obsessively and deeply cool fashion of management. Instead of suspending holds, I put them on a “wishlist” that my library system offers. Then when they are available or I am in the mood to read them, I put them on hold. I also use it for new releases and waitlisted books.

  2. Jaida says:

    You have no idea how happy it makes me to be able to use this space to tell a story of tragedy and woe. I live in California in a place where I am allowed to be a member of two library systems. During the pandemic I have turned my attentions purely to ebook usage, and was therefore able to take advantage of the online catalogs for several other libraries in states I used to live in. One state in particular has the most amazing online catalog. I am a hold wizard like yourself and always max out my holds in each branch I have access to. Anyway, this particular out of state branch always lists their new releases on order way before the others so I can get myself first in line. I therefore have my holds list maxed out for that branch (I think it’s 15 books). I should note at this point that i am no longer in possession of the physical cards for these libraries outside my state of residence, but since the library app has saved all my info it’s no big deal. Well, this week I got a notice in the app that Amazing Former State Library is migrating to a new online platform. WHICH WILL REQUIRE YOU TO LOG BACK IN WITH YOUR CARD NUMBER. And just like that, 15 carefully timed holds were gone. Poof. I am too scared to call the library and ask for my card number for fear they will somehow know I am no longer living in that state. Perhaps this is my punishment for gaming the library system. I am now stuck in line with the literal millions of other Californians vying for access to new books. Woe.

  3. Suzanne says:

    1. I own the entire Sue Grafton alphabet mystery series, except, of course, for Z, which Sue Grafton didn’t finish/publish before she died. And while obviously that is a very good reason for not owning a complete set of books (and it IS complete, in that I own all the published versions of the set), I can still FEEL the missing Z. It haunts me, a book that does not exist.

    2. You are a master of library holds. I will say that I don’t particularly like library books — the cellophane/protective wrappers, I think? I don’t know what it is — but I LOVE our library and I am a frequent and enthusiastic user of the library’s ebook and audiobook lending services. My library allows you to postpone when you want to actually receive/check out an ebook, which is a feature I use all the time. So you put a book on hold, and then it becomes available, but maybe you aren’t in an ebook mood, or maybe you are in the middle of reading three physical books (as I am) and just don’t have the capacity for another book, so you can postpone receipt of the book for however long you want. I think it’s 7 days, 21 days, or 90 days. And it’s not EXACT, like it won’t necessarily be available in precisely 21 days from when you postpone it, but it is close. And I LOVE it. Because it is the worst when you put a book on hold but cannot deal with it when it is available. Plus, it allows Future Me to deal with it. Like, oh, I cannot possibly bear to read this Anna Kendrick memoir right now, but in 90 days SURELY I will be in the right headspace for that. Libraries are amazing.

    3. The one thing I do not love about my library is that it LIMITS the number of book recommendations you can make. I find that hugely irritating. You do not own these five books that I WANT TO READ, and yet I can only request two until some arbitrary point at which I can request another two? I am sure there are perfectly valid reasons and this has only affected me personally twice but I am still irritated.

  4. Angela says:

    This post was so satisfying to read! I love my library hold system, and I will talk about it to anyone, at anytime. I have a regular library card at my local library and an e-library card at a nearby library. I only get physical books at the local library because their ebook system is not compatible with my Kindle. I only get ebooks and eaudiobooks with the e-library card because that is all that is allowed. Both of my library systems allow you to move up in the line while your hold is suspended, which is very nice. I am limited to 15 holds for ebooks, which is never enough. I am not sure how many I am limited to for actual books, but I have never maxed it out. If there is a book I need by a certain time (like for my book club), I will often put it on hold at both places if the line is long. The best thing about the ebooks is that you can trap them on your device by putting it into airplane mode. You still keep the copy of the book, but the library can still lend it out to someone else. I have had to move out my suspended holds quite a few times recently, so I am not going to put any new books on hold until I get through all the ones I am #1 on. It is definitely a highly coordinated dance to not end up with too many books at once. My elibrary system also lets you put books on a wish list, and sorts the wish list by books that have a wait and books that are available now. As I take suspensions off books, I am going to check out books that are available, since even if I am number 1, it might be 3 weeks before my turn comes up.

    • korio says:

      My library has a really infuriatingly patchy collection of ebooks – like it will have books 1, 2, 4, and 6 of a series. Even so, I don’t know why I gravitate to the physical books so much more – Phil would have to run to the library way less often if I’d get on board with borrowing ebooks. My Kindle is JAMMED full of books I actually own, though, and haven’t read, so for some reason it is just not the way I get things done these days.

  5. Kara says:

    I don’t buy books, because I rarely re-read. Phoenix Public Library used to limit you to SIX books at a time. SIX. During all of this, the limit has slowly moved up. It was 11. Moved recently to 12. I’m at the pick up line twice a week. Right now I have 16 books out, 5 waiting in will-call, and another 7 on the hold list that aren’t available to me yet.

    I’ve been waiting on Greenglass House by Kate Milford since 10/30/2020. Supposedly, they’re in the system, but I don’t believe them anymore.

  6. LeighTX says:

    Thank you for this opportunity to extol the virtues of the Google Chrome Library extension, which is so so wonderful. Like you, I cannot buy books or else my family would starve, so although I read A LOT I own very few books. When I look up a book on Amazon or Goodreads, the Chrome Library extension has a little box that shows up to tell me if it’s available at my library AND has a link to the hold system so I can put it on hold then and there.

    I set up an extra shelf on my Goodreads called “On-Hold,” and when I choose a book for my “Want to Read” shelf, once I have it on hold at the library I also add it to that “On-Hold” shelf.

    I miss so much wandering through the library, picking books at random. My library allows you to pick up holds at specific appointment times, but I’ve mainly switched to ebooks during These Times. I cannot wait to go back, and may start actually weeping on the day I walk in again. The library has always been my happy place.

  7. Swistle says:

    This whole post just made me ITCH to go pull holds—and then get pre-emptively irritated about the librarians who keep trying to take that task from me as if they’re helping me out, when it is NOT HELPFUL to take the MOST FUN task from someone MUCH LOWER ON THE LADDER. Perhaps they would INSTEAD like to help me with OTHER aspects of my job, such as SORTING NEWSPAPERS! HUH? WOULD THEY?? NO. SO THEY KNOW PERFECTLY WELL THEY ARE STEALING THE FUNNEST TASK. (You have been correctly informed that it is a fun library task.)

  8. Claire says:

    As a librarian this post makes my heart sing. Your hold-management ninja skills are unparalleled!

    • korio says:

      I am going to add this comment to my list of “librarians support this nonsense action of mine” evidence pieces.

  9. Kyla says:

    I deeply love this. Okay, I used to have 100+ holds at my old library and then moved a year ago and my hold limit is 20. 20! 20 physical books but I don’t read e-books, but in the pandemic I have started listening to digital audiobooks. The Libby app is amazing. So I manage my holds, my kid and my husbands holds completely – for a total of 60 holds. I do keep YA MG and picture books mainly for my kids queue, cookbooks for my husbands and everything else for mine – my For Later queue on mine is ridiculous. I keep my library tab open at all times and when I read the paper or New Yorker, I star the books I want to put on hold, sit down and put them on hold on my open tab. It’s a part-time job??

  10. Matti says:

    Our old library online interface was like a dinosaur where you used to have to write your requests on a card, hang it on a stegosaurus’s spine, watch it wander away, and hope that sometime in the next few months you might receive an ACTUAL PHONE CALL letting you know that your hold was in. Finally, FINALLY they’ve updated, and I can do almost all of it through the Libby app. So now I use my holds in a few ways.

    1. In The Before Times, my husband’s daily route to and from work used to take him directly past the library, and so between stuff for our kids, me, and himself, he was stopping multiple times a week. Now, we’re doing pretty much exclusively ebooks, and it’s okay. It’s fine. It’s not great, but it’s fine. The holds are easier to manage because there is no returning/holds might get returned before we get there to pick them up/these books are now overdue hurdles to jump over, but that is also somehow less fun.

    2. The Libby app lets me put off a hold for almost any number of days I want! This is awesome! This feature does force me to look up how long the book is on Amazon, stand in front of the calendar, and GUESS how long it might take others to read it before I’ll want/have time for this book to come back to me. As you may have guessed, an imperfect system at best. But, sometimes, the book is even ready ON THE DAY I put it off to, and it feels like a baby born on its actual due date. Like a happy little mathematical miracle.

    3. I like to stagger my holds so that I have some where I know I’m WAY back on the list and just steadily climbing, some I know will be ready soon because they’re back catalog, and some where I know they’ll all come in at once, and I can say to my family, “Sorry that you need dinner, but I have 4 library books to finish before they’re due back on Tuesday. Here are some Cheerios, bye.

    4. In The Before Times, I did use the holds feature like online shopping, and it was everything you say it is. On the off chance that I had to go the library for MYSELF it was almost always with three little kids in tow and sixteen other stops on our list, and to just be able to walk in and have all the books waiting for me at the front desk was unparalleled. If we could have gotten dinner at the same time, I would have probably just moved into the library.

  11. Lindsey says:

    This is very helpful because I definitely forget about the suspend/pause hold feature, and I should for sure use that more. I didn’t read e-books until last March when the library closed for three months. Now I place holds for both; we are only allowed 5 e-books on hold at at time through Libby so I try to estimate where they will come available first.
    Also we currently live across the street from our public library branch and it is so nice to just be able to walk over anytime and drop off/pick up books!

  12. LeighTX says:

    I forgot to put this in my original comment: years ago we lived in Ft Myers, Florida and the library system there would allow you to check off your favorite authors, and when one of them had a new book out it would automatically be put on hold for you. It was glorious, and I haven’t seen that system anywhere else we’ve lived. So handy! So convenient!

  13. KC says:

    This is delightful – thank you! I will have to see which features we have in our system…

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