Monitoring your holds helps library

Tuesday, November 22, 2011 - 20:00

Ever come to the Library to find there are no copies of the book you are looking for on the shelves? Avoid that problem by placing a hold on that book or DVD of your choice – sort of like reserving your place in a virtual line.

To place a hold, log into your account from the library’s homepage ( using your library card number and password (generally the last four numbers of your social security number unless you have changed it). Find the item in the online catalog. Select the location where you want to pick it up and hit the “hold” button. You will get an email when the item is on the “holds” shelves at your specified location.

The “holds” service is a great tool for library users that creates unnecessary work for staff if not used correctly. Given the cuts to library staff over the last few years, time-wasters are being hunted down and eliminated like sugar calories from a diabetic’s diet. So pay attention — with just one simple step, you can help wipe out

What happens after you place a hold on an item?

For staff, the mechanics of dealing with holds go something like this: Every morning a “holds” list is generated. The circulation staff collects items on the list. Then, items are routed through the computer, which then shows holds are available for pickup and emails patrons with the news. Index cards are created for each item with the card holder’s name and the date the item will be pulled off the hold shelf if it hasn’t been picked up. Then, staff shelves the items on the holds shelf. After 10 days, holds not picked up are put back into the system catalog via computer and re-shelved.

If the item is to be picked up at a different branch, it is placed in a courier box and the computer record reads, “in transit.” When it is delivered to the correct branch, it goes through the steps outlined above. After the item is checked back in, it goes through the process in reverse to get back on the shelf in its home library. When you have 160,000 card holders, this fairly straight forward process can become quite a task! For example, in October, 11,927 people were notified that they had items on hold.

Providing holds to patrons is clearly a popular service and an important part of our library business. As the library looks to provide excellent service to our patrons with limited resources, we’ve identified a number of areas during the holds process where you can help us maximize the use of staff time and, in a very real way, increase the number of items available to check out for all patrons.

Here’s how you can help: Pick up holds as soon as you can. Return items when you are finished. Cancel holds immediately if you can’t pick them up. If you go on vacation, you can put a “hold” on your “holds” list and we will wait until you return to deliver your holds. Don’t place holds on items unless you are sure you want them. With your help, there will be more items to check out and more staff time to do deliver them quickly.

In October, approximately 16 percent of holds were not picked up, about average for most months. That means nearly 2,000 items were unavailable to anyone else for 10 days (plus the time staff needed to process them on and off the holds shelf). Generally it takes between seven and eight hours to pull, process and re-shelve the more than 450 items on Loussac’s daily holds list. That adds up to nearly 40 hours a month of wasted staff time, because people don’t pick up holds.

My guess is that most of you have never considered the dynamics of the holds system or your part in it. It’s a great service that delivers materials in a timely and efficient manner. And by using it with awareness, we can literally improve library staff productivity and increase the number of items available to check out. So get online and place a hold today!

Toni McPherson is the Community Relations Coordinator for Anchorage Public Library. Get more library news at and

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