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

Posted: April 8, 2010 in Professional News

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…


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