We live in an era in which convenience is of utmost value to most people. Almost everyone feels crunched for time in their daily lives, so anything that allows people to save a few minutes is lauded. Libraries have caught onto this need among their users, and have attempted to enhance services to be as time-efficient as possible. Among these enhancements are self-service holds in public libraries, which garner a good deal of conversation among LIS students and professionals.
Self-service holds essentially allow customers to walk into the library and pick up items being held for them off the shelf without having to ask a librarian to retrieve the items for them. Most libraries mark the items with the first three letters of the user’s first and last name to maintain privacy. For example, my holds would be marked as “BRO ALE,” which stands for Alexandra Bronston. While this level of privacy is sufficient for most users, for some it does not feel private enough. And this is where things get tricky for libraries.
The ALA Code of Ethics says, “III. We protect each library user’s right to privacy and confidentiality with respect to information sought or received and resources consulted, borrowed, acquired or transmitted.” It also states, “I. We provide the highest level of service to all library users through appropriate and usefully organized resources; equitable service policies; equitable access; and accurate, unbiased, and courteous responses to all requests.” Self-service holds are intended to uphold both of these values by combining respect for the user’s privacy with a high level of efficiency of service, but it’s not that easy when some users feel that their identity is compromised when their holds are publicly displayed in the case of self-service holds.
On the other hand, some library users feel that self-service holds are more private because the librarian or circulation clerk no longer sees who checks out what. With the advent of self-checkout machines, a customer can enter the library, pick up their self-service holds, and use the self-checkout without having to interact with library staff at all. For some library users this is the ultimate in convenience and privacy, but some users, particularly older ones, may find this system confusing, inefficient, and impersonal.
Finding a balance between providing efficient services, protecting privacy, and meeting the needs of all types of users is a constant challenge for libraries, and I suppose all information organizations must weigh the advantages and disadvantages of every new technology they introduce to their customers. This issue in particular provokes discussion, particularly in regards to public libraries and how they can best utilize resources and serve their customers, and there doesn’t seem to be a clear-cut solution, at least at this juncture.
–Post by Allie B.