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Last Modified: June 16, 2021
A photo of a laptop on a book cart in a library, with the heading Beyond the Stacks with Jessie Bach
How to “Hack” the Holds List

By Jessie Bach


Alberta public libraries have a combined holdings of over twenty million itemsor around 5.5 books per person. When it comes to getting your hands on the hottest new releases though, holds queues can reach into the hundreds and wait times can be months long. For eight years now, I’ve worked as a librarian on the inside of this systemselecting, acquiring, and cataloguing the collection in a consortium of thirty-six libraries. Below are my “hacks” and insider tips for getting your hands on that title you’re dying to read as quickly as possible. Throughout this post, I’ll share some screenshots from the TRACpac catalogue. If you aren’t a member of a TRAC library your catalogue may look a little different, however, the features and functionality will be similar.


1. Get there early

Libraries order material pre-release. This means that the new book your favourite author just announced will be coming out in November is likely already available in the library catalogue as an “on-order” record. You don’t need to wait until the book is published to place a hold! As soon as you hear about a forthcoming title you’re excited to read, search for it in the library catalogue and get your holds placed before the rest of the crowd. When it finally arrives, you’ll be one of the first in line. “On-order” records may look a little short on information, but you can rest assured the cataloguing will be completed closer to publication time. The example below shows a new title from the Athabasca University Press that will be coming out in August, with one copy on-order: 

The TRACpac catalogue listing for Under the Nakba Tree by Mowefa Said Househ, a book that is not yet published.


2. Look closely at the online catalogue

If your online title search returns multiple, similar catalogue entries for one title, don’t just place your hold on the top result. Take a closer look at the details and you’ll likely find that your library’s catalogue will give some indication of the number of copies available for each entry, and some will even mention the number of current holds. This scenario is more common for classics, or very popular titles that have been in publication long enough to have numerous editions. There may be small differences between the booksformat, an illustrated edition, or an updated foreword. Unless you’re specifically looking for a certain edition, you can place your hold on the entry for the item with the most copies and the least holds. Check out the catalogue entries for Jonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead:

Example of the TRACpac catalogue listing for Jonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead

There are two eBook editions and one hardcopy edition. Looking towards the bottom of the summary, you can see a field that indicates the availability of each edition. The first entry shows no available copies, and eleven holdsthat one will take a while to get. The CloudLibrary eBook and the hardcopy book both have available copies. Your best bet will be to place a hold on one of those.


3. Place holds on multiple formats

Your library buys the hottest books in every format availablehardcover, trade paper, audiobook on CD, MP3 audiobook, large print, playaway, eBook, e-audiobook, and more. If you aren’t picky about how you read the book, place a hold on all the different editions. When one of those holds is filled, you can log on to your online library account and cancel the rest. Here’s an example: 

Example of the TRACpac library catalogue listing for Homes by Abu Bakr al Rabeeah and Winnie Yeung

In this case, there are three different formats available for this popular title; an eBook, a hardcopy book, and a book club kit. Place your hold on all three of these records and you will be in line for whichever format is available first. 


4. Manage your account

Your library likely has a limit for how many holds you can place at once. This limit will vary based on your library’s local lending policies, but it’s usually quite highup to one hundred holds. Obviously, most of us won’t be able to read one hundred books in three weeks if they were all to come in at once! Luckily though, your online library account offers options that let you manage the flow of your holds. When you log on to check on the status of your requests, you will find the option to suspend or reactivate your holds. When you suspend a hold, the library system will skip filling your hold while at the same time keeping your place in line. As soon as you’re ready to receive the title, you can reactivate the hold and if you’re at the top of the queue, it will fill right away. Using the suspend and reactivate features, you can build that hundred-item holds list and then manage the flow of materials you receive.

Screenshot from an online library account

In this screenshot from an online library account, you can see that there is one active hold, and two others that have been suspended until August 10, 2021. The inactive holds will automatically become active on August 10th. If the patron is ready for them sooner, they can reactivate the suspended holds at any time and slide right back into line.


5. Talk to your librarian

As librarians, our ultimate mission is to connect people with the books they want to read. If you’re unable to get the book you want to read in a timely manner, call up your local library and let them know. They will likely buy a copy or two for the local collection, and help you place a hold. 


Library book budgets are finite, and for librarians it’s a delicate balance to ensure we create a collection with depth and breadth, while also supplying as many copies of the hot new releases as we can. Long holds queues and wait times will occasionally be inevitable. By implementing one or more of the “hacks” above, you can make sure you get your stuff as quickly as possible! While you wait, check out some of the other resources the library has to offer by discovering a debut or new-to-you author, checking out a classic you’ve always meant to read, or browsing the Lucky Day collection on OverDrive (no waiting required)! 

Beyond the Stacks is a column about libraries in Alberta and the useful and necessary services they provide.

Photo of Jessie Bach, author of this articleJessie Bach grew up on a family farm in Southern Alberta, and is a life-long library user and book lover. She has a degree in history from the University of Saskatchewan, and a Master of Library and Information Studies from Dalhousie University. Jessie has worked in archives, academic libraries, corporate records management, and now public libraries. Her current role is Bibliographic Services Manager at Marigold Library System where she manages the team that does acquisitions, cataloguing and processing of library material for Marigold’s thirty-six member libraries. She currently lives in Calgary with her partner and, in true librarian fashion, four cats. Jessie likes to read (of course), knit, consume way too many true crime podcasts, and lift weights in the gym.