A more civil library recall
Perhaps this scenario is a stretch, but the truth is, the library’s recall process is a little harsh. You think a book is yours until a specified due date, at which point you can even elect to renew the book; in reality, it can be taken by anyone at any time through the recall process. Heck, it’s a great way to piss off your ex if you know what’s on his or her bookshelf.
The library should modify the process to make it a bit more in line with the civility and convenience expected from such a benign institution as a university library. Really, the library shouldn’t be a battleground for anonymous recall wars between students.
Instead of going straight to “recall,” library users should have the option to get in touch with the current holder of any book and request its use. If the library prefers to maintain the anonymity of the parties involved, a Craigslist-esque system could be set up in which an automated system e-mails each person on behalf of the other:
“Dear Prince Tonian: Another student requests the use of ‘Beloved’ by Toni Morrison. Please return the book to Firestone Library by 10/8/09, unless you need this item until its original due date of 5/10/10.”
Wouldn’t that be a nicer e-mail to receive? No doubt. And if you received it and realized you probably weren’t going to have time to read “Beloved” at any point in the semester, you’d probably return the book. Simple solution, if the stars were aligned. Still, I have a feeling students would nonetheless choose to recall books from one another, even if other ways of obtaining the book existed, including this “request” function. The anonymity of the recall process, coupled with the unconditional power to take any book from anyone at anytime, makes for a cocky Princeton student’s fantasy. Hence, a better solution would be to make it much harder to recall a book from someone in the first place — to make recall a last resort instead of an immediate option on the library’s website.
A student should have to prove that every other channel of obtaining a given book has been exhausted — including, especially, Borrow Direct, a fantastic system that has not failed me once — before being authorized to recall a book from someone. Borrow Direct is a partnership set up among the Ivies (except Harvard — what’s with that?) wherein students can obtain any book from any other Ivy’s library if it is, for whatever reason, unavailable at Princeton. The Interlibrary Loan program is similar, but is generally slower than Borrow Direct. Nonetheless, these, in addition to reading course books on reserve, checking the Princeton Public Library and buying books at Labyrinth, are easy avenues to try before resorting to the harsh recall option.
I’ve heard that Borrow Direct is an expensive program for the University — shipping books overnight ain’t cheap. It’s likely that reforming the recall process would increase the number of books requested through Borrow Direct or Interlibrary Loan. But, considering the importance of books to Princeton’s primary mission of educating people, this is a worthwhile expense. Plus, it would save a lot of students the headache caused by the recall process in its current form. By making the recall option a student’s last resort, the library can contribute to making the University community more civil.
Molly Alarcon is a Wilson School major. She can be reached at email@example.com.