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Patron for a day

Yesterday, while my library was closed, I read about J.K. Rowling being outed as Robert Galbraith. I placed a hold on her book, The Cuckoo’s Calling, and looked forward to picking it up this morning. I got to the library about 45 minutes after it opened. The book had gone out to another patron who’d found it sitting on the new book shelf.

The staff at the desk reminded me that this is our policy: if a patron comes to the circulation desk with a book, even one that’s been placed on hold by another patron, the hold is over-ridden and the patron gets to take the book out. Which had happened about 3 minutes before I came in. I had seen the book was available when I placed the hold and didn’t think about this scenario, or I would have arrived when the library opened. I knew the policy, but didn’t think about it.

I ran my other errands and came home, feeling disappointed and a little put out, both with myself for not thinking about getting there when the library opened (anticipating the demand for the book), and with the situation. If a page had pulled the holds before I arrived, I could have taken the book out, because it would already have been on the hold shelf; likewise if I’d arrived before someone else who wanted the book, it would be on my nightstand.

But this has been eye-opening because it made me see how easy it is to set policies on the staff side without feeling the impact from the patron side — this particular policy on paper seems fair and customer service oriented. Possession is 9/10 of the law, right? And it makes sense to try to please the person who is physically in the library and might get upset if you tell him or her the book is unavailable when clearly, it was on the shelf.

Until I was the patron who saw the book still available (moments before I left home) in the online catalog and drove over anticipating picking it up, the policy was just a dry note on a page (and one I easily forgot about, since it doesn’t come up much for me when I’m working at the reference desk). Now it is a part of my experience as a library user, and it doesn’t feel so good.

Which made me wonder, what else am I (and library staff everywhere) not experiencing from the patron point of view? Maybe part of staff training should be “patron for a day” exercises, requiring people to get out from behind their desks and use the library, to get a real feel for the “usability” of our spaces and policies.

Do you do this kind of thing in your library? If so, how has it worked? Have you changed any policies, shelving, or other aspect of your library as a result of your own experience as a patron?


About Deb Baker

Deb Baker is a writer and insatiable reader, and library director at a community college. She muses about library issues at The Nocturnal Librarian ( and blogs about books, reading, and life at bookconscious ( Her family includes two awesome offspring, a husband, and the cat who adopted them. And a crazy rescue kitten.

3 responses to “Patron for a day

  1. This is not right…what an archaic system. Aren’t holds kept separately from the main circulation areas?

  2. We have the same system in our libraries in Sandwell, England but I think if you were a customer and picked up a book off a shelf and was then told you couldn’t have it because someone had reserved it online, you’d be even crosser! So I think it’s probably the best way!

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