How To

5 Tips For When You’re Drowning in Library Holds

Laura Sackton

Senior Contributor

Laura Sackton is a queer book nerd and freelance writer, known on the internet for loving winter, despising summer, and going overboard with extravagant baking projects. In addition to her work at Book Riot, she reviews for BookPage and AudioFile, and writes a weekly newsletter, Books & Bakes, celebrating queer lit and tasty treats. You can catch her on Instagram shouting about the queer books she loves and sharing photos of the walks she takes in the hills of Western Mass (while listening to audiobooks, of course).

Are you drowning in a sea of library holds? Me too. I know it’s my own fault, because I keep hitting that request button like it’s my job. But sometimes it feels like I’ll never come up for air from the sea of incredible library books sitting on my bedside table, waiting for me at the library, or “in transit” to me from somewhere else. Here are a few of the strategies I use to keep from sinking too far underneath my holds stack. Maybe they’ll help you get through yours, as well.

Library Holds Tips

Learn to love the wait list

If you’re the sort of person who enjoys reading buzzy books right when they come out, this strategy won’t work for you. But if your goal is simply to read the book, and you don’t care when, then books with long waitlists are the best. My library holds essentially function as a personal TBR list. By placing holds on books with long wait lists, I can ensure that I won’t be inundated with books all at once. Once I put a book on hold at the library, I usually forget about it until months later, when I get a delightful surprise email telling me it’s ready.

One in, one out

This is the strategy that has helped me the most in keeping my library habit under control. It’s simple: I cannot check out a library book or pick up a hold unless I also return a book. I don’t hold myself to a strict one-to-one ratio: if two holds come in but I only have one book to return, I count it as an equal exchange. It’s ridiculously simple, but it works. My stack of library books at home is still six or eight deep, and since holds come in faster than I finish books, it usually doesn’t shrink—but it doesn’t grow exponentially, either.

Put books on hold before they’re published

I often spend twenty minutes poking around Goodreads, and end up with five upcoming books I’m dying to read. Instead of putting all those books on my TBR, I select the ones I’m most excited about and put them on hold at the library. I make sure the pub dates are scattered, ideally choosing one book coming out each month for the next 2–3 months. I get the satisfaction of putting books on hold right away, but I don’t end up with eight new books checked out all at once.

Utilize freezing and suspension

I didn’t even know you could do this until a fellow Rioter wrote about it, but now I can’t imagine how I managed my holds list without it. Freezing (or suspending, depending on your library network) a hold allows you to keep your place in line, but the book won’t come in until you unfreeze it. It works for physical books as well as ebooks and audiobooks. When I get overexcited and request ten audiobooks at a time, for example, I often freeze a bunch of them to ease the flow of books from an overwhelming stream to a steady trickle. 

Don’t be afraid to return books unread

There’s something deeply satisfying about returning a library book you’ve finished. It feels like an accomplishment, a complete transaction. But checking out a book from the library is not a contract written in stone. If I check out a book, max out the renewals, and still haven’t read it, that’s a pretty clear sign that I don’t really want to read that book right now. Instead, I can bring it back to the library unread and pick up that hold that I am actually super excited to read.

My fellow Rioters have got some great ideas for getting the most out of your library and curbing your library habit. Check out How to Manage Your Reading List Using the Library Holds Function, Breaking My Library Habit and Reading My Own Books and 5 Reasons to Binge-Request Books from the Library.

What do you do to keep your library holds under control?