Thursday, March 31, 2011

I ♥ Patron Requests (pt. 1)

Ahhh, patron requests. Or, perhaps you call them "suggestion for purchase" or "purchase recommendations" or something else entirely. Whether you specifically solicit them or not, suggestions appear so there is something to be said for having a "process" for handling them.
However, once a library has a process for something, changing it seems to require three signatures, a vial of blood, an act of God, six meetings, two "meetings" after the meetings, and a 1989 quarter. And that is before you even get to the assumption that, once rules are in place, people will follow them: patrons OR staff.

I think most librarians agree (don't we?) that customer/patron input into the collection is essential.

But are there limits? Should there be?

In a misplaced sense of "service" do we overstep our boundaries?

Our patron request mechanism is online and form based. Please put in your library card number, please fill out this info, thank you very much. It has evolved over the years. When I first started, there were no limits on what you could request or how many. Those requests came right to your email, and we did respond back to each and every request. On the one hand, that was great for passing along information. "I'm sorry, your request is out of print." Or "We have that, but it was originally published under this title." Or any other number of responses you wanted to pass on to patrons. Now, the messages might be "I'm sorry, that book is in e-format only, and not available through Overdrive." On the other hand, the problem with a response to every rejection is that, more often than not, it led to a lengthy conversation. "WHY do you wait for the US release instead of purchasing from the UK/Australia/Singapore/etc where it is out now?" "Yes, I understand why you would want a representative collection for THAT musical artist that I don't like, but for MY favorite, you should have everything!"

And, come on, I've already talked to you about Sex a Baller, right? It isn't difficult to explain why this doesn't fit our collection policy, but that doesnt mean the answer is accepted. There were times when conversations about a single item could go on for days. There were also times when, quite frankly, patrons behaved badly. If you've heard library horror stories of patrons acting up, you know what I'm talking about.

9 comments:

Helgagrace said...

I don't get a lot of patron requests, so I guess I am disproportionately enthusiastic when I do. We don't have a formal policy (that I know of) for responding to patrons who request things, but we do try to put it on hold for them if we do end up purchasing it, which I guess is a response in itself.

It's harder to know how to deal with the super-excitable conspiracy theory/religious nut guys who keep asking me to buy sketchy looking books. I need to brush up on referring people to the collection development policy, I guess.

Kristin said...

Since we're a special library, we only collect VERY specific things so our patron request is usually from the museum staff or from visiting scholars. I always like these requests because they're usually well aware of the type of material we collect and what is and isn't appropriate. Right now I have a Google Form I try to get people to fill out, but of course people just e-mail me anyway! :P

Helgagrace said...

We do have a form, but it's clunky and patrons (or staff helping patrons) have to print it out and submit it. So most of my colleagues and I just end up getting a recommendation from a patron, locating the appropriate item in Amazon or WorldCat, and printing it out to give to the right person.

When you've got ~15 different people doing collection development, you have to have some way of knowing who orders what, and we have a list taped to a wall.

Cathy Hatterman said...

Typically we get patron requests, but they're also staff, since we're a state library. Most requests back up a class, reading project, seminar, Talking Book and Braille recording studio, etc. But occasionally even then, the request can not quite fit the collection development policy. That's why the requests all get approved by a team. With the final ok from the Reference/Collections Librarian

And then I try to find it by the information I've received. And most of the requestors are llibrarians--but no, I don't always get all the info I need. We're just as bad as everyone else, me, too. An author? An ISBN? A publisher, maybe? Some things transcend library types,

Terry (@GameCouch) said...

We have an online form mostly to keep persistent self-published authors from taking up too much staff time. Patrons use it too, but I find that they are telling us about books we'd buy anyway (the next book in a hot series), stuff we can't buy (based on format or availability) or stuff we already own but they can't find because our OPAC sucks.

Helgagrace said...

I'm sure we will also have to have a post about donations and local authors.

jimmythegeek said...

Mostly our patrons request something they've seen on Oprah or the NYT Bestsellers lists, or through Publisher's Weekly. Generally it's already on order & we just put their name on the holds list for that title.

And then you have those patrons that wish to buy a book they've checked out, but that's a whole 'nuther blog post....

Kristin said...

@Terry Self-Published authors seriously do that?? That's so devious! If I didn't feel sympathy for the librarians having to deal with it I would say that was genius.

robin said...

@Terry I think is partially why we require a library card. If an author has a card, they're welcome to submit a request for purchase. If they don't, and they have an Indy connection, they usually get that person to submit. I once had all the people in an author's family request a book on different cards. At least, I assume they were family members by the last name. All the requests were some version of "This is a great new local author! The library should have this/I can't wait to see this at my branch" LOL. I probably bought it too. I'm such a sucker.