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How to Manage Your Reading List Using the Library Holds Function

Jen Sherman

Staff Writer

Jen is an urban and cultural geographer who did a PhD on public libraries and reading. As a researcher, her interests are focused on libraries, reading, book retailing and the book industry more broadly. As a reader, she reads a lot of crime fiction, non-fiction, and chicklit. And board books. All the board books. You can also find her writing about books for children and babies at Instagram: shittyhousewife / babylibrarians Twitter: @jennnigan

I used to keep a list in my phone of books I came across that I wanted to read but for whatever reason could not acquire at that moment. I’d be browsing in a bookshop and think that I really shouldn’t be buying ten books when there was food to be bought and bills that needed to be paid. So I’d buy one or two and the rest would go on the list. When I was at home, if I came across a book I wanted to read (someone mentioned it on Twitter; it came up in a promotional email from a bookshop or publisher), I would jot it down on a Post-it and stick it on my desk.

How to manage your reading list using the library holds function

That system didn’t work perfectly. The list never seemed to get smaller, and I never seemed to actually read the books on the list—the one or two I ended up NEEDING and therefore buying always seemed to take priority, and I was never in a bookshop or library thinking “I have nothing to read; I ought to consult The List.” There was always something new and shiny to catch my eye.

Recently, I started using a new system, and it involves my favourite library feature: the library holds function. These days, I tend to come across new books to read from three sources—Instagram, emails from bookshops and publishers, and Book Riot newsletters. What these three sources have in common is that they are accessed on a screen. I am not in a physical bookshop or library when I find books I want to read; I am on my laptop or phone and the library’s online catalogue is just a tab away.

Because these tend to be new releases that I’m coming across, the library will often have the book on order. I add it to my library holds list and know that eventually it will be ready for pick-up.

Right now, I have 16 books on hold that are “not ready.” Ten of them are titles that the library has on order. For one book that the library already has, my place in line is #266 on 85 copies. For one of the books that are on order, I’m #82 on 27 copies. For another book on order, I’m #47 on one copy.

This means that it will probably be months before I read some of these books. But that’s okay, because while I wait, there is the pile of books on my bedside table and bookshelf that I am currently reading or have been meaning to read, including books from the library that I waited months for. The staggered and delayed method of reading new releases means that I’m usually quite behind on book discussions of hot new reads, but it also means that I get lovely surprises in my email when the library notifies me of a hold that’s come in: ‘One hold ready for pick-up.’ ‘Oh! I’d forgotten I wanted to read that! Great!’

The reason this method has been so effective for managing an out-of-control ‘to read’ pile is because the books rarely come in all at once. I add them to my holds list not because I want to read it RIGHT NOW but because I want to read it eventually. This has been much more effective than The List in ensuring I actually read the books that I want to read, and not just forgetting about them and finding a scribbled Post-it years later and wondering what it means. Because these are also books that tend to have a lot of people wanting to borrow them after I get my hot little hands on them, it also usually means that I can’t renew them so I have to read and return them within the loan period. I find this added pressure helps, too.

So my library holds list now looks a little ridiculous, but I am actually reading more books that I have been meaning to read now than ever before, so I call that a win.


Looking for more? Check out How I Keep My TBR Small in 8 Easy Steps.