Librarian access to new materials – privilege or ethical no-no?

I thought I was in Nirvana when, during my library tour the first day I started working here, my supervisor told me, “And you can take a book off the new books (pre-catalogued) shelves to read, as long as  you bring it back the next day, before it’s missed… I do it all the time.”

While I’ve never taken her up on that (because I’m afraid I’d forget, or neglect, to bring it back the next day), I’m often one of the first to pounce on an interesting brand new book coming into the system – post-catalogued. My itchy HOLD finger can’t help it. If it’s a book I’ve read rave reviews about, or that just plain sounds interesting, in goes my library card number and on hold it goes, plopping on my desk in mere days. Such a sweet sound - almost as good as the sound review books make landing in my inbox at work or on my porch at home. What tips the scale is the review books don’t have to be returned.

My itchy HOLD finger is activated, oh, probably three or four times a month (for new books I mean, we won’t mention older books…). Occasionally a little more, okay. I admit it. So often, at any given time my desk could serve as a decent New Books shelf. Only I’d bite anyone daring enough to peruse it.

As for the patrons? If they’re as on top of what’s new and upcoming as I am they can put a copy on  hold too, yes? Usually a new book is on order by several libraries; it’s not like these go undiscovered by the majority of libraries in the system.

So, I view this as a privilege of the profession, a profession in which perks get fewer and further between the more the economy takes a dive. As long as I try to be a little more conscientious about returning the newer books on time, is it so bad I put holds on multiple On Order books? Again, it’s not as though the patrons can’t do the same…

Then again, as a staff member I get preferential treatment. My hold comes first, then our own library’s patrons. It’s only once our patrons have all had a turn that our books go to other libraries. By setting things up this way, is the library not telling me “Go ahead and put holds on new materials! We love you! We need you to read, read, read and be up on all the new books!”?

Methinks it becomes an abuse of power when it comes to putting holds on book after book after book that’s On Order, getting several brand new books at a time, essentially blocking patrons from getting a chance at them first. Do I do that…? Well.  OKAY! Sometimes I do! But there are just so many good books out there. And. I. Want. Them. All.

As a librarian, I pay no fines for overdue books. Another bonus that makes me clap and screech like a little girl. I, ahem, try not to abuse that… Well, no, not really. I know I do abuse it, and too often. And, yes, maybe I put holds on too many new materials. Specifically books, hardly ever anything else like DVDs, unless it’s a family-appropriate film – which there are all too few of – we and our kids can watch together. We’re always on the lookout for those, and the library gets multiple copies, unlike most of the books I’m interested in (non-bestsellers).

It’s only recently I’ve started feeling any true compunction about my itchy hold finger. I guess you could say it started around the time our head of circulation sent ’round a general email to all employees regarding checking out too many new materials, not giving the patrons first crack at them. Coincidence? Not out of the realm of possibility. Though the big neon arrow he installed above my desk is a little distracting.

So, how ethical is it for library employees to place holds on new materials the very second they see they’re either on order or somewhere in technical services being processed? When is it okay, and when does it become a transgression, an abuse of privilege?

I honestly think I’m too blinded by sheer lust to answer this question without prejudice. Since I was a child – and a member of a monthly mail order book club that kept me watching for the mailman as though I were a dog, eager clamp onto his leg - books have been one of the few pure joys in my life, which I’m sure is true of a number of our patrons, too. A brand new book is intoxicating, filled with possibility… But sharing is also a virtue, something we should never let our greed eclipse.

So, what’s the solution? When are we justified in using our ME FIRST! power, and when does that become an abuse of the system?

I’ll think about it, and you think about it. If you have anything to share, please do. Just don’t beat me to the HOLD button and no one gets hurt…

7 thoughts on “Librarian access to new materials – privilege or ethical no-no?

  1. As a patron, I couldn’t care less. I think everyone is entitled to perks for doing their job. You should be able to read all the new books first, so when patrons come asking questions, you’re on top of it. The thing about the library is – IT’S FREE. You can’t exactly complain when “Twilight” is checked out. Now, if a librarian is going into the system and erasing your hold or skimming a dime off the top of your 60 cent late fee, that would be unethical and abusive. Other than that, read away. Just don’t hoard the books that you’re not reading at the moment.

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  2. I personally don’t mind if librarians get the new books first. You guys and gals work your heinies off, and let’s not forget those two magic words: reader advisory!

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  3. I used to volunteer for my local library. I processed the hoardes of donated books and sat right next to the cataloger. even though I wasn’t an employee, I saw what was being processed and jumped on the hold list right behind the librarians! our library system has the same priority hold queue as yours.
    I never begrudged the hold priority as long as the books were returned on time or I didn’t see them sitting there for a week before they were actually checked out. I knew librarians that would take the book home as soon as they got the notice it was available but didn’t actually check it out until a week later. that would give them 4+ weeks to return it rather than just the standard 3 weeks.
    the only other practice I saw that was an “abuse” of the system was renewal of books that are held for others. our system doesn’t allow the patron to renew a book if there is a request pending. I know clerks that will, for friends, renew a book even if there is a hold requested for someone else. that really is not fair and peeves me a lot (specially if I’m the next patron!!!).
    Even for popular books, I tend to be loyal in my hold requests and request my library’s copy rather than the first available. I like to boost my library’s circulation. It gets them a better budget and I always have so many books, a few more days won’t hurt me.

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  4. My question is, how many copies of each book are you getting in? If you’ve got the one copy of James Patterson’s new book in your TBR pile, and a line of 500 people waiting for it, you should read very quickly. If you’ve got one of 5 or 10 copies of a book, don’t sweat it.
    I would be miffed if you took the book for a week or two before it was cataloged without putting it on hold. Then again, at my library, staff don’t get preferential treatment. They get on the list wherever they can manage.

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  5. As a former librarian I have no compunction in saying the perks are so few (no limit on the number of books borrowed was my favourite) that you should take them as you wish. I’m sure it’s the same the whole world over because most librarians get into the profession because they so love books.

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  6. I’d say as long as you can read them in the loan period allowed to you there is nothing wrong. I would be unhappy if you renewed them for yourself over someone else’s hold. Similarly if you had them sitting around, not reading them, for a long while when others are waiting – that’s not fair

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