Mysteries of the Public Library

I’m trying to comprehend the reservation system of the Toronto Public Library.

Way back in February I reserved two books, not normally carried by my branch.  Both books had a lengthy waiting list, so they didn’t become available until late last month.  I picked them both up at the same time, although that was probably a bad idea.  I take a long time reading books, because I read them in 20-minute blocks—twice a day—during my commute to and from work.  Life is hard, I know.

Well as luck would have it, it took me quite a long time to get through the first book.  It was a very interesting book, mind you—Shutting out the Sun, a fascinating look at a unique Japanese social  phenomena, and how it may indicate a deeper malaise within the structure of Japanese society and culture.  It’s very capably reviewed by Bob Tarantino on his own blog, and that review was the catalyst that caused me to reserve it from the library.

As I was reading, I realised that I wasn’t going to make the return-by deadline, so I renewed the loan on both books.   Or tried to.

I had no problems renewing the first book.  The second was already reserved by someone else, so it could not be renewed.  Fair enough.  I went to the library’s website and made a new reservation requst for the second book.  No less than 28 people had gotten there before me; my reservation request was number 29 of 29.  Oh well.  I returned said book to the library a few days before it was due—no point in making other readers wait longer.

A day or two later I got a phone call from TPL’s auto-notifier system, informing me that a reserved book was available.  The very same one I had returned a couple of days earlier!  Naturally I went and picked it up (and am reading it in 20-minute commuting blocks now).

I can’t quite grasp how this came about.  While in prior possession of the book, the TPL website did not let me extend the loan because there others waiting for it.  But once TPL had the book in its mitts, it did not forward said book to #1 on the waiting list, nor did the book go back to its home library branch.  Instead it went to #29 (me), right at the bottom of the list.  Why?

Obviously the reservation system isn’t first-come, first-serve.  It appears that it gave me preference because a copy—the one I returned—appeared at my home branch, and I was also one of the future reservers.

If that’s the way the system works, wouldn’t it have been a whole lot easier to just allow people to extend the loan?  Why force them to go through the formality of returning an unfinished book just to get it back two days later?

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3 Responses
  1. There you go, thinking again. Obviously, the administration wants you to return your reserved books to your home branch. Probably helps them justify additional staff and overtime. Just do it, more. You may like the results.

  2. Ben says:

    Call me a jerk, but I just take the hit on fines, if I’m nearly done the book. (Or do they have super-duper fines, now?)

  3. Chris Taylor says:

    I am embarrassed to say that the notion of incurring the fine hadn’t even occurred to me. At all.
    Hadn’t even started the second one yet, and I was estimating the read time at 2 weeks. Still, even 2 weeks overdue rates a mere $4.20 (.30 a day). Not much of a fine, so I guess that’s an option.