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Getting Your Hands On the Best Books Without Buying Them
(or doing anything illegal)
If your local public library system doesn’t satisfy all of your reading needs, especially if you are an ebook or audio book aficionado, many larger library systems offer memberships, sometimes free to certain populations, such as residents of neighboring cities or counties, residents of the state, along with those employed there but living elsewhere.
While some libraries don’t give nonresidents access to digital materials, other libraries have thought big and gone the other direction and offer paid memberships to those who live too far away to ever (or rarely) use their library for physical materials.
When done on a large scale, the library can use these fees to provide a greater variety of materials to their local patrons, so the program is a win-win.
When I realized this was possible, I did the research and found that the Brooklyn Public Library offers the largest catalog at the lowest price for U.S. residents. Non U.S. residents should try the Orange County (Florida) Public Library.
While the tips below might work for other libraries, be aware that each library’s interface is different and each library offers different categories of materials.
These directions are specific to the Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) in New York City, NY, a primary source of reading material for The Lois Level. Note that we are not sponsored or affiliated with them in any way.
The Lois Level is about being well read while spending next to nothing to do it, and we do it as normal library patrons, just like you.
Ok, here it goes, (drumroll please), our
Top 10 BPL Holds Queue Tips
1. Follow The Lois Level (yes, shameless plug).
Seriously, I get about 75% of the books that appear on The Lois Level through the BPL. The remainder are either public domain or checked out through the two local library systems I patronize.
About 95% of the books on The Lois Level are owned by the BPL, even if I happen to get a copy elsewhere. I also have FREE cards for my local library and a neighboring city, that purchases more nonfiction and literary fiction than my home library, and I download books in the public domain.
I have spent NOTHING on books in 2021 except for gas for my car (I live in the ‘burbs) and my $50 BPL membership fee.
If you see it on The Lois Level, chances are you can check it out at the BPL.
2. Master the BPL holds list.
The BPL wisely prevents the massively long holds queues that frustrate many library patrons (and cause Amazon to giggle with glee) by strictly limiting you to 10 holds at a time. When you have an item on hold, they tell you how long the estimated wait is along with how many copies they own and where you are on the list. For example, it might say “You are 11th in line for 15 copies”.
This system may take you aback at first, but soon you will discover it actually results in a much better user experience.
3. Place holds on books that aren’t released yet.
Yes, you can. These folks are connected.
Unlike most libraries (at least my local), the BPL gets new releases into its system before the release date, and they allow patrons to place holds on them. If you follow reviews, or you know your favorite author is about to release a new book, go ahead and get on that holds list!
4. Go ahead and get on the holds list even if it seems ridiculously long.
The BPL does frequently buy additional copies when they see high demand for a book. If they see a lot of people using up one of their 10 precious holds for a book that is on a 12 week wait, that tells them what they need to know.
The digital library system is actually better than the “paper” system for hot new books because the library won’t be stuck with a bunch of unused copies when the popularity runs its course. Note: The longest line I’ve been in once a book has been released is 12 weeks. I’ve been able to place a hold a prerelease up to 6 weeks before release, so working ahead pays!
5. If you are in a really long holds queue at the BPL for a new book, start checking your local library about a month after the book is released
(or whatever you have figured out or found out is their normal timeline).
If your local library is like mine, it takes a few weeks for new releases to get purchased and into the system, and you can’t put the books on hold or even definitely know they have been purchased until that time. I’m sure the book business doesn’t mind that it all, but I make it my business to avoid paying for books as often as possible.
As advised above, go ahead and get on that holds list at the BPL, but if you think of it, check your local library after a few weeks. You might find it readily available there, which allows you to use one of your precious 10 holds with the BPL to line up for something your library doesn’t have and isn’t ordering!
I’ve had a lot of luck finding paper copies of new books just sitting on the “New Book” shelves at my local branch, to the point that I’ve started scouring them carefully whenever I go in for my holds. I suspect my co-patrons at my local don’t follow the reviews as much as my co-patrons at the BPL, but the librarians do!
6. You can “suspend a hold” if you have too many books to read.
The “suspend” option lets you keep your place in line while allowing someone else to have the book while you get through your pile. You can “suspend” at any time in the holds process, and you can specify how long you want it to be “suspended”.
7. Add anything and everything that catches your eye to your “Wish List” by clicking on the bookmark icon.
You can keep 5,000 books on your wish list, so it’s a great tool for keeping track of all the books you are interested in for those times you suddenly want something different and also for the books that don’t fit on your “Holds” list. I imagine the “Wish Lists” also alert librarians to which books need their licenses renewed when they run out.
Whenever you check out a book from your “Holds” list, add a book from your wish list.
8. Make sure that you set up text messaging so that you don’t miss your holds when they become available.
If you don’t “borrow” the book within two days, you’ll lose your hold, so if you know you don’t have time, you’ll want to use your “Suspend” option to keep your place in line. (check to see what happens)
9. Don’t get the ebooks and audio books mixed up.
If the BPL owns both the audio book and ebook version of the same book, it shows up as two separate entries, usually with the same thumbnails. Underneath the image, it will say “audio book” or “ebook” and have a corresponding icon. Sometimes, the library owns only one or the other, so make sure you don’t get in the wrong holds queue.
If you usually use one format but occasionally use the other, and only one is owned, put it in your wishlist for the next time you need it.
I have a couple of audio books waiting for my next road trip because that’s the only time I read with my ears rather than with my eyes.
10. Recommend books that the BPL doesn’t own and get jumped to the front of the Holds Queue!
If you do a search for a book that is available from Overdrive but not purchased by the BPL, the book will appear at the bottom of the page and ask you if you want to recommend it. This is a great power that you should definitely use…but as with any great power, use it judiciously. In this case, because you only get 2 every 14 days.
This limit, while seeming like a curse, is actually a blessing because the staff doesn’t get overwhelmed and has time to take recommendations seriously.
In return for your contribution, they will automatically put the book on hold for you if they do purchase it, even if you already have your Holds Queue full.
Don’t worry, they won’t drop any of your current holds, they just won’t let you add more when your next book becomes available or you delete something until your total goes back below 10.
So there you have it: how to milk as much value as possible out of what is already the best entertainment deal out there!
Please add your tips below!