Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Library Life: Holds Slips

When you request an item at a library, staff pull it off the shelf, check it in, and file it in a special location for pick-up. But, as masters of categorizing and putting items in order, you might be wondering just exactly how we file them. This brings up a few important issues in the library world:

  • Ease of finding information - how easy is it for me to find your requested items when you come to collect them?
  • Confidentiality - how can I protect your privacy so that other people don't know what you are taking out?
  • Self-sufficiency - is there a method simple enough to allow the public to find their own items off the shelf, or must this always be done by staff?
In order to solve this dilemma, libraries have different methods for storing and sorting them, however they all follow similar principles.

Some libraries use slips of paper with a person's full name, sorting by their surname, and store them behind a counter for privacy. This is often done for smaller or more private libraries, as it requires a lot of space in a staff-only area.

Many, dare I say most, use specially coded "holds pick-up slips" that can be seen by the public. These involve some combination of a person's name as well as a number to help distinguish between similar names. So, a holds pick-up slip could have the first 3 or 4 letters of a person's last name, their first name, and perhaps, the last 4 numbers of their phone number. 

Most libraries I have been to, have it actually even more secretive than that, however. Most commonly, I have seen The first 3 or 4 letters of the last name, first initial, and a short sequence of numbers. The numbers usually correspond to either a barcode or a phone number, depending on the size of the library. This allows for privacy, as well as for people to be able to find their own items.

For example, mine would be something like ROGS1234

You might wonder, how private this really is though. Let me show you!

KINS - Could be Stephen King, or Sophie Kinsella

ROBJ - J.D. Robb or Julia Roberts?

MCCC - Colleen McCullough or Cormac McCarthy?

Yet, sometimes this doesn't quite work out so seamlessly...

NOVN - Naomi Novik. Doesn't really feel like it could be anyone else, does it?

Overall, it's a pretty good system. There could always be improvements of course, but when it works out in most situations, I'm happy with it until we can think of a better way!

What kinds of things are you interested in learning about libraries? I'd love to share the secrets of the trade with you!


  1. That's interesting that there is a massive level of privacy maintained in the library. I never considered that, but it is certainly important.

    1. Yes! Privacy is a really big part of my job. When people are checking out their items, some really want to talk about them, and other times I have to pretend to not notice (or actively not look at) what they are checking out to try and avoid them having any embarrassment.

  2. "KINS - Could be Stephen King, or Sophie Kinsella"
    Haha, quite the same thing!

    This was interesting. We'd like more, please 😀.

    1. Glad to here it - these are some of my favourite posts to write! I just need to think of more ideas...but I was considering a part 2 ;)

    2. ...remind me not to respond to comments when I'm tired; that typo is just painful.