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Current library system is very inefficient

inefficient library system

I used to use library when I was a kid. It was a fun way to explore new books and the mystery of the world. But internet changed it all. I haven’t used library since ages, as everything I want is available on the internet. (You know, the not-copyrighted ‘free’ ebooks that you can download from P2P, you know what I mean)

I went to the city library few days back just for a change. I got a library card and thought of borrowing some book for a change. The book I wanted was already checked out by someone. So I had to put it in a request. But the system of request and holding is very inefficient, here is how.

If you want to borrow some book, you search library catalog. If the book is checked out by someone already, it gives you an option to reserve that book once it is available. So whenever that person returns the book, the system emails you about the book availability. All this is fine. But the book is now on hold and library keeps it for you for 10 days. If you don’t show up in 10 days, the next person who reserved the book gets it.

So the problem part is the 10 days hold period. For example, I recently requested a book “Into the Wild“. I got an email after 2 months of waiting. Currently the book is on hold for me. They will keep on hold for 10 days. And there are 78 more people waiting after me for this book. So the book just stalls for 10 days without any use, even if there are 78 people waiting for it. Suppose if I don’t show up and the next person in queue also doesn’t show up, that will make the resource (in this case, the book) unavailable for next 20 days, even if no one is using it.

I bet this is happening every day at library. 1000s of books are kept just on hold, making the system very inefficient. Most of the resources are just staying on the shelf even if there is hunger for knowledge. Which is against the idea of library. I don’t yet know whats the best way to manage this. Let me know in comments if you have any idea. May be someone will implement it after reading this.


  1. Aaron
    Aaron May 14, 2010

    Perhaps in the email there could be a link where you have to verify that you will come in and get the book. If you do not hit the link within 24hrs (let’s say) then a similar email goes to the next person.
    if you hit the link, then the book will be on hold for 10 days. I can see how this would help, but not eliminate the problem.

  2. Bhavishya Goel
    Bhavishya Goel May 16, 2010

    You are missing an important aspect here. The problem that you have mentioned deals with two conflicting demands: strict adherence to request queue vs reduction of book idle time. One cannot be reduced without compromising the other. From what you have mentioned, the current library system gives priority to maintaining request queue over book idle time. If we want to eliminate the book idle time, we can do away with request queue procedure and instead issue it on first come first serve. A good trade off between the two is to have a pyramid request queue instead of linear queue:

    If you are at the top of queue, you get exclusive wait time of x days. The queue positions 2 & 3 can be grouped in second level of pyramid for first come first serve (in case 1 doesn’t pick up the book). In the same way 4,5,6 and 7 can be grouped at third level, 8-15 at fourth level and so on. If 1 picks up the book, then everyone moves up in the queue by 1 as in a normal queue.

    But of course, the most efficient and simplest way is this: If a person wants to put in a request for the book, instead of reading what’s available, don’t give it to him for free. Instead charge him a nominal fee and as soon as the book is available, mail/deliver it to him. He may not read it, but at least the book is not idle from financial point of view. This will also ensure that the person would pro-actively cancel his request if he has changed his mind! 🙂

  3. Brijesh
    Brijesh May 16, 2010

    Here is what I am thinking as solution. I am describing as time-line.

    1] Requested book is available. Library system sends an automated email to the first requester in queue.
    2] There is a link in the email. The requester have to click on that link and enter the exact time when he will be picking up the book. The time can be anywhere between the next 10 days as the current system but he has to specify the exact time.
    3] Let’s say he wishes to pick up the book on 8th day.
    4] So it is confirmed that book is free for next 8 days. Library system sends email to the next 3 person in queue that book is free with return due date of the 8th day. So they can check out book and return it before the 8th day.

    This will maximize the usage of the system. Also, including a library-credit system to this process will simplify things. If the person does not follow his schedule (like he did not pick up book after he confirmed times, or he is always over due on his books), the system reduces his library-credit-score. So the lesser the score, the less time he has to pick up the books.

    This process sounds complex but it is not. It is very user friendly and very easy once implemented.

  4. Eunoia
    Eunoia May 19, 2010

    Any library with a queue-length of 78 for a single book should consider buying a second copy!

  5. Aaron
    Aaron May 19, 2010

    Or you could just not allow more than half the copies of any one book to be on hold. If the library has 5 copies, only 2 copies can be on hold. If someone wants the other three, they have to go through the old fashioned trouble of actually going to the library. Also whenever someone checks out a book, any holds they had for that book expire right away.

  6. Ann
    Ann July 20, 2010

    I am a librarian at an elementary school and this is exactly why I don’t hold books. I want books to be in the hands of the eager reader, not sitting on a shelf waiting for the student that may or may not come and check it out. I will however let students know when it is back on the shelve, but it’s up to them to check regularly. This works out well as students come in more often and discover other titles that spark their interest.

  7. Brijesh
    Brijesh July 21, 2010

    Totally agree with you, but authorities don’t agree.

    I think they are already doing this at some places. They dont allow all books to hold, but its not implemented at all places

    You are doing the right thing, but I personally think that you should not totally eliminate the “hold” system. Some student might have problem with accessibility problem in physically coming to library to get the book. Hold system is good, but it needs improvement. Being a librarian, I would suggest you what Aaron said above, hold the books but not all.

  8. komal
    komal May 16, 2011

    m komal and i have done Master of Library and Information Science and working in well-known university……..the matter you have discussed here is very inefficint for your side but we have also faced some problems regarding higher authorities and users……and on hold time of that book can readby anyone in library..

    • Brijesh
      Brijesh May 26, 2011

      I am not sure what you meant. Can you please elaborate?

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