Reserving a book: Monterey Public Library

The following is an outline for one way to reserve a book at the Monterey Public Library.

1)      Go to the Monterey Library homepage at http://www.monterey.org/library.

2)      Click on My Account and login to your library account.

3)      Perform a search for the topic or book that you want to reserve.

4)      When you find the book, click on the book’s Detail Page.

5)      In the upper right box, click Place Hold.

6)      The next page asks you to confirm the hold and define the book’s Pickup Location.

7)      Click Place Hold.

This particular process is already fairly optimized, provided that you know what book you want to reserve, there’s not much work that could be done to improve it.  The only thing that could be done to remove a step would be to allow patrons to choose a default pickup location and then skip step 6, the confirm hold page.  But I feel that this change would likely end up causing more problems than it solves because the confirm page is useful as a way to allow users to cancel easily if they accidentally hit Place Hold on a book they didn’t mean to confirm.

By far the weakest step in this process is step 3.  If you know exactly what book you’re looking for, this is easy, all you have to do is type in the book’s title in the search box and follow steps 4 – 7 listed above.  But if you don’t, you can easily run into problems.  Library search engines are great at targeted searches where you know exactly what you want.  However, they do not work very well for serendipity searching, which is a common way of finding books by browsing in libraries, unless you’re careful with how you use them.  Say you want to find a book on a science fiction topic but don’t care about the author or have a title in mind.  If you search the Monterey Library catalog for science fiction without changing the search options drop down, you receive books that are encyclopedias of science fiction, and collections of science fiction stories, without actually showing much in the way of science fiction books.   If I did not have my degree in Library and Information Science, I would not even think to use the Subject search option, which is what users need to do to find actual science fiction books using this interface.