Popular items mean long waits for Champaign-Urbana library patrons

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Darrell Hoemann/C-U Citizen Access

Kelly Strom, collection manager at the Champaign Public Library, demonstrates how to reserve books and holds a copy of the popular new John Grisham novel on November 16, 2016.

Patrons looking to check out popular items from the Champaign Public Library and the Urbana Free Library might have to face long waits.

Some new and popular items have holds lists of more than 50 people, according to records provided by the libraries.

The top three most popular books at both libraries at the moment are Ruth Ware’s “The Woman in Cabin 10,” with 70 people waiting for it; Colson Whitehead’s “The Underground Railroad,” with a holds list of 60 people; and J. K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany’s “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” with a 56-person line.

The libraries’ top three most popular DVDs are “Captain America: Civil War,” with 96 people on its holds list; “Ghostbusters,” with an 84-person line; and “X-Men: Apocalypse,” with 78 people waiting for it.

Kelly Strom, collection manager at the Champaign Public Library, said the waiting process for items usually goes smoothly.

“I think our patrons are pretty used to how the system works,” Strom said. “If they don’t want to wait on a holds list, then they can get a rental book if it’s available for that particular title. Otherwise, they seem to go pretty quickly because we buy so many copies.”

The Champaign Public Library has a rental collection available to patrons. That means patrons can use their library cards to rent books, audiobooks and video games for $1 a week and DVDs and Blu-rays for $2 a week.

“The advantage to that is you don’t put your name on a hold list. You just walk in, take it and go,” Strom said. “So, if you don’t want to pay to check out your library material, you’d put your name on the hold list for a popular one. If you don’t care, but you want that book today, then the rental books are a good option for you.”

Patrons leave the Champaign Library just before the 6 p.m. closing on December 9, 2016.

Darrell Hoemann/C-U Citizen Access

Patrons leave the Champaign Library just before the 6 p.m. closing on December 9, 2016.

Both the Champaign Public Library and the Urbana Free Library have a formula for ordering popular books. Strom said that for every three or four holds on an item, the Champaign Public Library buys a new copy.

Lora Fegley said the Urbana Free Library, where she used to be director of adult and youth services, follows the same pattern. For every four holds for a book, the library orders another copy.

“There’s a fine line, and it’s kind of an art,” Fegley said. “You don’t want to order 15 copies of something that’s going to be popular this year, and then it’s going to be sitting on the shelf. We want to be responsible with our taxpayers’ money.”

Both Strom and Fegley said they have techniques to anticipate what items will be consistently popular with patrons so that they purchase those items to be checked out. They consult professional journals that review upcoming releases, and they also look at popular magazines like People and Entertainment Weekly. Additionally, patrons can suggest items for the libraries to purchase and put on their shelves.

The Champaign Public Library and the Urbana Free Library share an integrated library system called Polaris. Among other functions, the libraries use the system to track how many people are waiting for an item.

“Our system is set up so that if a local Urbana user places a hold on an Urbana item, they would get it first over a Champaign item and vice versa,” said Celeste Choate, executive director of the Urbana Free Library. “Our patrons do have the opportunity to place an interlibrary loan and get books from across the state and across the country, which they also do regularly.”

Polaris generates weekly holds lists for the most popular items. “We use that to see if we need to buy additional copies in order to satisfy the demand,” Strom said. “We don’t like our patrons to wait too terribly long to read a new book.”

Richard Stokes, patron services manager of central access services at the University Library, said integrated library systems play a big part in the management of libraries because they can track items from acquisition to cataloguing and finally to circulation.

“If there are multiple people wanting an item on hold, [Polaris] will actually form up a queue so that those people can get it one right after another,” Stokes said. “It manages the movement of the material, and it manages everybody’s accounts all at the same time.”

Circulation has increased for the Urbana Free Library since its implementation of an updated item renewal policy in July 2016, according to Choate. The library increased the number of times patrons can renew items from three to five.

“People that are enjoying something want to keep it, or if they haven’t had time to get to it, they want to keep it,” Choate said. “People have been checking out even more stuff [since the change].”

Choate said that does not impact the amount of time other patrons have to wait to get renewed items.

“If we see that people are placing holds on items, then the item would need to come back the next time it was due,” she said.

The numbers of holds for items fluctuate weekly; therefore, how long patrons have to wait for items depends on how fast the items circulate through the libraries.

For example, the DVD “Captain America: Civil War” had 102 people waiting for it on Sept. 28 but 96 people on Oct. 12. In contrast, the book “The Whistler” by John Grisham had 41 people on the holds list on Sept. 28 and 53 people on Oct. 12.