A Question for Librarians …

… or indeed library users.

There has been a change to the way the Cornish Library Service operates that I’m not too happy with, and so I’d be curious to know what happens elsewhere, and whether my concerns are reasonable.

Let me explain

The Cornish Library Service runs 32 branch libraries. And, of course, it buys books for them. Multiple copies of popular, mainstream books, one or even more per library. Less copies, sometimes even just one for the whole county, of others. But anything not in your branch can be ordered from another library in the county for a mere 50p.

Now that seems eminently sensible.

But here’s what’s changed.

In the past when I ordered a book that wasn’t in stock at my library it went back to the branch it came from when I returned it. But not now. Books stay where they land until somebody else orders it.

I had suspected that for a while, because an awful lot of books that I had to order in are now on the shelves in my local library.

And the rotation system has been stopped. The library used to move books that weren’t in stock in all of the branches between libraries from time to time, but no more.

Now I can understand that the new system might save library staff a lot of time and energy. But I can also see problems.

I used to be able to leave a book I wanted to read behind if the moment wasn’t right or I had enough books already, safe in the knowledge that it was in stock and would reappear sooner or later. But now books will won’t come back if somebody from another branch places an order.

It’s happened with The Woman before Me by Ruth Dugdall, which I’ve had my eye on for a while but not picked up.

And a while back I read something about A Vision of Loveliness by Louise Levene that piqued my interest. I remembered seeing it in the library, but when I went in to look for it disappeared from the shelf. And when I checked the catalogue it was gone, ordered by someone else in another library.

And here’s another scenario. I spotted the Ice Cream Girls by Dorothy Koomson in a charity shop. It looked good, but it wasn’t necessarily a keeper, so I put it down and checked the library catalogue. It showed that there was a copy in my branch out on loan, and so I waited for it to come back. I waited for weeks and weeks. And when I checked the catalogue again there wasn’t a copy in my library any more.

Am I being petty?

I know that all I have to do is place my order and pay my 50p. But I also know that books used to move around without a library user having to pay before, and now they don’t.

And I know that new books will be coming into my library when other people order them.

But I’m not convinced.

Yes, popular books will travel all around the county and everyone will get their chance. But maybe other will get stuck.

I’ve ordered in a lot of books longlisted for the Orange Prize and none of them seem to be moving on. Soon the entire longlist will either be in my library or my library pile, which is great for me but maybe not so good for the rest of the county.

And I have noticed a couple of instances where there are two copies and they are both in my branch – Secret Son by Leila Lalami and Dimanche and Other Stories by Irene Nemirovsky – both books I’ve ordered.

I know anyone in the county could order them, but not everyone realises that. Library users who just scan the shelves are at the mercy of those of us who order books.

And I’m really not convinced, looking at the books that appear on the shelves where we pick up our reservations, that they are going to get as good a service as they did from the old rotation system.

And here is the fatal flaw. You can only order the books you know about. The books you don’t know about, the books you would have spotted when they were rotated into your branch, will just sit on shelves forever.

And I fear that we are getting library cuts by stealth. While the focus is on book acquisitions and opening hours, powers that be are quietly cutting other things …

So tell me, what do you think? What happens where you are? How would you do things.

18 responses

  1. In London, we have a system whereby you can request a book from any other library free of charge. It will be held for you for about a week after it comes in, at which point it either returns to its previous library or just goes on the shelf. Given that I only seem to find Newham Libraries books in the Stratford branch of Newham Libraries, I suspect books return to their previous library. While it’s possible that the Newham stock circulates (i.e. that the councils rotate among their own branches, but not across London), I think each book just goes back to its own library. It’s good that ours are free of charge and it should be so for all the libraries in the country, but I suppose better 50p for a request than no library!

    • I think that’s much the same as the system in Harrow when I lived there. Though in those days I didn’t do much ordering because I could get easily to most of the libraries in the borough. Here in Cornwall things are a little more spread out and so I order rather more.

  2. Short, since my arms/hands are still in pain from typing, but

    my library branch also seems to keep holds I’ve returned on the shelves until someone else requests them. I don’t know if they ever rotate selections between branches on their own; I don’t browse the stacks often enough to notice.

    However, the holds system is completely free for users, and lots of people use it, so quite a few books will be rotated on their own. I cannot imagine paying for every hold request, just because a book was at a different branch! That would make me so cranky.

    • I’m sorry to make you type, but this was something I had to get off my chest. With free holds and bigger libraries I think the system woild work with a lot of books moving, but with smaller. country libraries and reservation fees I’m not convinced it is going to work.

  3. In the library world this is called “floating” and it seems to be a trend these days. My library system adopted it in January 2010 in order to save time by staff not having to check in tons of books that were returned every day from other branches. It really has cut down on the amount of discharging that staff do. I like it because it keeps our collection fresh – we always have new and different items on the shelves for customers to browse among. We do monitor our collection and “refloat” items that we have too many copies of or bring items on hot subjects in to our branch. Librarians still have some control over the collection. Most of my colleagues do not like the system because they don’t enjoy having to constantly monitor their areas, but I find it helps me to know the collection better and to know our customers better.
    Like Eva’s library, though, we don’t charge for holds. I think if we did that in combination with the floating system therewould be a citizen revolt!

    • Hooray for dedicated librarians like you! I can see that if somebody is keeping an eye on things and sending in or sending out books to keep a balanced collection it would make all the difference.

  4. We have the same system at my library and yes, as Anbolyn has stated it’s called ‘floating’. It has cut down on the amount of courier boxes we check in every day which in turn reduces the chance of repetitive strain injuries. We’re facing an audit due to so many claims recently. The info desk staff don’t like having to monitor the collection for multiple copies to re-float somewhere else though and I don’t blame them. AND customers keep coming up to me to report books at the wrong location because the location stickers are still intact right there on the front cover.

    I don’t like that you are charged for placing holds. I’m sure you, like us, pay for library services through your taxes…it seems like double-dipping to me. Charging for holds not picked up seems reasonable as someone’s time was wasted. That’s just my bugaboo.

    • I hadn’t thought of RSI, but here in Cornwall we check our own books in and out and collect reservations from the shelf ourselves. The computer has us put books either on the trolley or, if they are on order or from elsewhere in a box. Staff just have to sort out the books in the box, sending reserve stock back to head office, sending off books that have been ordered to other libraries and recataloguing books from elsewhere that are staying here.

      I’m not thrilled about paying for reservations, but I see it as paying a little more for extra service, and there is a cost in sending books up and down the county.

      You will understand, I’m sure, that I’m unhappy that someone in another branch has reserved Jane Brocket’s new knitting book that i was thrilled to find on the shelf a couple of weeks ago, so I have to return it and I probably won’t see it again unless I order it back.

  5. It’s true, a lot more libraries are gradually floating their collections. It does freshen them up a bit and saves wear and tear on the books — I hadn’t even thought about repetitive injuries! Our system doesn’t charge for holds but I don’t think a small charge for expired holds would be a terrible thing, especially if patrons abuse it — it’s a lot of wasted time both looking for books and then having to pull them and reshelve them.

    Our library does keep an eye out for multiple copies (they tend to pile up after book groups return them en masse) and they can shift books to branches with less circulation.

    It stinks that you have to pay for holds, but I know budgets are tight and the price of gas is just terrible — it must be even worse for you in the UK than it is here! Maybe the library just can’t absorb it. I know there are library systems still facing entire closure. It’s so depressing.

    • I can see that if you are watching for multiple copies and things like that this system would be good and save a lot of work. I’m used to paying for reservations, and if I didn’t I would probably order far more than I could read, but it would be good to maybe have a certain number free, and to have some provision for people who can’t afford to pay.

    • Ouch! The system does need tweaking, and I’m particularly disappointed that the library isn’t more open about things. I thought I could see what was happening, but questions had to be asked before it was confirmed.

  6. Our town’s public library (that’s the system in Massachusetts) belongs to a network of 30 or so town library systems, and it used to be that when you wanted to reserve a book you placed a hold on a specific copy, Now, you can still do that, but you can also place a hold that gets you the first available copy at any of the libraries. It means that you get the books a lot faster, esp. if it’s a popular title, and even if it isn’t it’s a way of getting a book from another town or even another branch) that our library doesn’t own. But they must be trucking books all around all day, all the time. At the beginning, they made a point of asking us to try and return the books at the source library if we could, to help reduce costs, but they’re not doing that anymore, so they must have found some efficiencies to build into their system. And they have never charged for any of this! It’s just an amazing service. We haven’t been faced with the budget cuts (yet) that I’ve been reading about in the UK and New York, but given the great use I get from this service I think I’d be willing to pay a little each time. (But ask me if I still mean that when they take me up on that idea!)

    • That is a wonderful service. I don’t mind paying, and I would gladly do more to support the library service in these difficult times, but I would like the library to think just a little bit more about the effects of changes they make.

  7. Essex has an automated system for reserving/renewing. Free to reserve if done on line – charged if done ‘at the desk’ or for books from outside the county. Returned books currently go back to the library where they ‘belong’. I saw a good idea in West Sussex recently – they had a shelf of the newest/most in demand books which were loaned for 1 week, rather than 3. I have just reserved S J Watson’s, ‘Before I go to sleep’ and I am no 105 on the list! I tend to read books which have been reserved by someone else first which means occasionally I don’t get to one of my other books before they have to be returned (6 renewals allowed, if not requested by anyone).

    • Cornwall has that one week system too, but it hasn’t been rolled out to all of the branches yet. There were 21 reservations for Cornwall’s two copies of “Before I Go To Sleep”, and I was extremely lucky to pick up a copy and my other, subscription library. It has a member who reviews crime for a national paper and donates a lot of crime books.

  8. As far as I know when I return reserved library books, they go back to the branch library they came from. In the Luton/Bedfordshire library system, we can reserve books that are within the county for free, unless you get notification by snail mail that your book is in. I check my reservation status online so always opt for the free way.

    • I believe that in Cornwall we pay more if we ask staff to reserve rather than use the computer. Different local authorities of course, and I suspect our libraries are smaller and more scattered than those in your part of the world, so doesn’t seem unreasonable for us to pay a little more.

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