Thursday, January 24, 2013

Things the Library Should Invent

1. Automatically set your holds list to "inactive" after you have a certain number of books in transit 

I add every single book that I think will be of passing interest to my library holds list, so I usually have somewhere between 40 and 50 books on the list. However, I don't want them all to come in at once, because I won't have time to read them all. So, once I have enough books checked out, I set all the remaining books on the list to "inactive". This means I keep my place in the hold queue for each book, but the library won't send it to me until I set it to "active" again. (If I should reach the front of any book's queue, the library will send it to the next person in the queue until I reactivate it.)

When I start running low on reading material, I reactivate my list. However, I still don't want all the books on the list to be waiting on the hold shelf for me, I only want a few at a time. This means that when my list is back in active mode, I have to monitor it throughout the day. Recently I reactivated my holds list with the intention of getting about 5 more items. However, I neglected to check it for about three hours, and when I finally did check it there were 10 items in transit for me, which is entirely too many since we can only keep them for 3 weeks and I do have a full-time job.

I would love for the library to provide the option of having your holds list automatically deactivate once you have a certain number of items in transit and on the hold shelf. This wouldn't be mandatory, of course, but I'd love to be able to tell the computer "Send me 5 more books - whatever comes in first - and then don't send me anything more until further notice."

2. List series name and number at the beginning of the book title field 

When I read a series, I add the whole thing to my holds list at once and set them all to inactive. Then, when I'm reactivating my holds queue, I only activate the next book in each series. This way I can read the books in order without having to wait for a long line for each.

The problem is that the title field of the library catalogue listings doesn't include the series number, or sometimes even the series name. So when I'm reactivating, I need to remember which series are in my list, google up the reading order for each, and scroll through my list of book titles to find the next book in each series.

 I'd like the library catalogue to list the series name and number at the beginning of each title, so it's visually obvious which titles belong to which series and what order they go in. You sort by title, and all the series are laid out for you.

 For example, I'm currently reading the Inspector Gamache series. The next book in line is listed in the library catalogue as "The cruellest month". This isn't informative - I don't know where it is in the series, and, when I'm scrolling through my whole holds list, I don't even know that it's part of the Inspector Gamache series as opposed to being a standalone novel. If, instead, they listed it in the title field as "Inspector Gamache #3: The cruellest month", it would be readily apparent what this book and whether or not I want to reactivate it at any given time.

I wonder if it might also be possible to combine these two ideas and tell the computer "Activate the next book in each series, plus all non-series books. Send me the first five that come in, and then deactivate everything." They'd need to put additional fields in their database for "Is this book part of a series?" "Series name" and "Series number", but that does seem like the sort of thing a database can handle.


Anonymous said...

These are kind of awesome ideas, though I think that the implementation of the first would probably be way to onerous on a system that I'm already boggled about - the a public library has such a well-integrated system as TPL does in the first place is a thing of beauty.

Regarding series information - the thing as that that is a field in their database (I assumed it would be, since it's a completely bog-standard field to fill out in cataloging generally, but I just double-checked, and they definitely do series statements in the TPL catalog.) I think that the books are probably even searchable based on series statement, but you won't see that data unless you click through to a book, and then select "View all details...".

The information includes the book's number in the series, too. It would be relatively simple, then, to change the search system to at least let you search primarily by series, or to display series information on the search results. And I can only imagine you're not the only person who gets annoyed by the inability to do so.

laura k said...

Excellent ideas! Perhaps you will send a link to this post to someone at TPL?

You're such a great library user. You use the library catalog the way I (and many people) used to use the Netflix queue, in the days of DVD-by-mail. My queue was my de facto list of any movie I might want to watch. Then I'd play with the order of the queue, putting some titles in "park" (inactive). There was no danger of too many arriving at once, though. You could only have 3 at a time.

I keep a running list of books I want to read on my computer, and I put holds on some as I'm ready to read them. I wonder what would happen if I put 50 books on hold at once!

impudent strumpet said...

@kweirley The catalogue does have series information and it does come up when you search, but it doesn't appear on the holds list. The holds list contains title, queue position, pickup location, and expiry date. (There are screenshots here. So you still have to look at every single item to see which series it belongs to, if any.

Maybe an easier solution would be to let users customize column headings in the holds list, like you can in iTunes and Windows Explorer.

impudent strumpet said...

@laura I never used Netflix because I don't want enough movies and such to make it worthwhile, but I always found appealing the idea that you'll get some movie from your list sent to you and you don't know which one. That kind of computer-generated randomness scratches an itch in some corner of my brain, so when they switched to streaming I mourned the loss of the possibility of getting random movies in the mail, even though I don't have room for more movies.

laura k said...

You would probably enjoy Zip (if they still exist, they were bought by Rogers and I'm not sure what Rogers did with them). My problem with Zip was that randomness.

Netflix has always been streaming-only in Canada. But Zip is (or was) $30/month, a pretty high threshold for movie watching. One advantage with Netflix streaming is the lower threshold: $8/month. But yeah, you choose one at a time. No "shuffle".