Snoops in the Stacks

I have recently adopted the habit of instantly ordering books that people recommend from the library, before I forget. I started doing this when I realized that of the hundreds of books that get recommended to me every year, I read…maybe twenty. Typically, I’ll read them because they get repeatedly recommended by multiple people. And since most of the people I tolerate in my presence are pretty smart, I figure they might have good taste in books. Readers, feel free to add your book recommendations as well. I like me a good book.

This does mean that I get library notices telling me that I have new books more or less constantly. And I never know what the books are going to be, since I have a huge queue of pending holds. So once a week or so, I head over to the new library and grab them, and it’s like Christmas. I think it’s safe to say that I am a high-volume library user, since I am constantly lugging books to and fro.

At any rate, one of the things that they changed when they remodeled the library is the hold system. It used to be that you walked up to the counter and asked for your books. Now, they’re on a self-service rack.

Honestly, it makes me a bit uncomfortable, because the books are identified by patron name so that it is easy for you to find yours. This means, of course, that other patrons can also tell what you are reading, and I’m actually not too into that. I would prefer that my choice in reading material remain private, especially since I have a wide and varied taste. I also feel like this could potentially be dangerous.

Let’s say, for example, that I am a 15 year old Catholic girl who thinks that I might be pregnant. If I order books from the library to research the situation, my parents could walk right up to the hold shelf and see them. That would, needless to say, not be good. Or maybe I am HIV positive and I want more information about it, and my boss happens to see my name on “So, You’ve Been Diagnosed With HIV, Now What?”

I personally certainly wouldn’t go to the point of not ordering a book out of fear, but it does give me room for pause, and I’ll bet that more paranoid folks are rethinking their source of reading material at the moment. I think that’s a great pity, because the library is a great resource, and so is the inter-library loan system. I am actually a bit disappointed in the library for not thinking to protect patron privacy. While I understand the desire to streamline things, I think that the library would have been better off with a self checkout station, if they wanted to reduce the load on counter staff. I happen to love self checkout stands because I hate interacting with people, so I can quickly and efficiently check out my books. It’s a service from the San Francisco Public Library that I actually rather miss.

It’s also interesting, because libraries around the country have fought very hard to protect the privacy of their patrons. Librarians hold their ground on not releasing checkout records, for example, or on keeping public computers as secure as possible. While I doubt that the FBI is snooping around the Fort Bragg Library to see what books are on hold for me…they could.

Apparently, the library has gotten some commentary on the self-serve hold shelf, so it might disappear fairly soon. Or it might not. Right now, I’m debating whether or not I want to be a bitchy patron and complain. I mean…it’s a library. I get free books whenever I want them. So I feel a bit churlish for complaining, but I do have valid concerns about the issue. Knowing the high population of conspiracy theorists around here, my concerns might be more articulately expressed and rooted in logic than some of the other complaints, so perhaps I should voice them. Or maybe I should just write a subtle complaint about it and post it on the Internet for everyone to read.

Yeah, that might work.