Technology Taketh Away and Technology Giveth Back

A couple of years ago I became an avid user of the KCLS electronic catalog for getting books and DVDs.  Kind of like using Amazon.com, except it’s free and you have to wait for the popular titles.  The unintended benefit is that I read the books I’ve gotten from the library much faster than the ones I’ve purchased at a bookstore, because of the time pressure (especially for popular titles, where you’re limited to four weeks because you can’t renew a book for which others are waiting).

Last fall KCLS "upgraded" their site’s software, apparently because they were running some ancient, unsupported system.  Unfortunately, in doing so they made the site less user friendly and took away two of its best features.  One in particular is the ability to pause your holds.

To explain, a hold is when you request a title that isn’t available because all of the copies are lent out to others, and you have to get on line for the next available copy.  It’s not uncommon for there to be hold queues of a couple of hundred people for popular new titles.

The problem with holds is that you can’t predict when you’re going to get to the front of the queue, so you can’t plan for when the book is going to be available.  If you have holds on ten books and six become available at once, you either have to check them all out and hope you can find time to read them all in four weeks, or let them pass and get back in line again.

Being able to pause the hold addresses this.  It lets you keep your place in the queue, but the title won’t be delivered to you even if you’re at the front.  If you get to the front of the line when your hold is paused, people behind you pass you one at a time until you reactivate your hold, at which point you get the next available copy.  This gives you a lot more control over when you get the title.  The only limitation is that a hold can only be in effect for one year from when you initiate it, which includes any time that you wait for it to become available and also any time that you have the hold paused.

As you can imagine, losing this feature made the site as a whole less useful, esp. for popular, newly released titles.  There are half a dozen books that I’ve taken out in the past six months — in some cases more than once — and returned without reading because I didn’t have the time.  The good news is that this feature was added back recently, so now I can place holds to my heart’s content.  I went from three to seven books on hold, and four of those holds are paused (or "frozen" in the site’s new parlance).  I’m tempted to publish my hold list here, but then the folks at DHS won’t feel as special.

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