When Library Visits Go Wrong: What to Do in Five Common Disappointing Library Scenarios


We love libraries here at Pages Unbound! And we love celebrating them! Sometimes, however, a trip to the library does not go exactly as planned. Below are a few scenarios you might encounter that can make a library trip disappointing–and what you might do to make your trip more of a success.

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A book is missing from the series you want to read.

I used to think that a missing book in a series at the library meant I could not read the series. I had some vague notion that the library staff must be aware that the book was missing, and they apparently did not care. One day, however, I saw someone tell staff that a series they wanted to read was missing a book–and the staff put the book on order for them! I realized that the staff were not actually aware of the status of every book in the collection, and that they were probably relying on patrons to notify them when books in series were missing.

Now I regularly inform the library when a book in a series is missing, and I want to read it. Some staff might just offer to request the book from another library, but others will pass on the purchase request. After all, it benefits them to have all the books in a series, so people keep reading the other books that are still on the shelves! My library also now has a purchase request form that I can fill in online, instead of talking to staff. Stating that the book I want ordered is one missing from a series has so far always resulted in the book being purchased for me.

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You don’t see the new release you wanted to read.

This scenario is similar to the one above. Talk to a librarian about putting in a purchase request for a book, or see if there is an online form you can fill out to ask that the library purchase a specific title. Often, this process will automatically put you on hold for the book, so you should be the first to get it when it arrives!

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A book is dirty or damaged, or a DVD case is broken.

If a book is damaged, you can tell the staff. I highly recommend this because you do not want to be charged for any damage you are not responsible for. If possible, show the damage to staff at checkout so they can make a note of it. You can also call if you notice the damage at home, and are worried you might be charged. (I would personally only do this for something egregious, not something like a half-inch rip on page 352, unless your library is unusually devoted to charging for what is along the lines of normal wear and tear.)

I have also successfully shown broken DVD cases to the checkout staff, and had them put the disc in a new case so I would not get sliced by shards of broken plastic. I know it can feel awkward to talk to the staff sometimes, but if you are polite about it, most staff are going to be polite and helpful in return.

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You forgot to bring your library card.

Most libraries allow you to show photo ID instead and they can look up your account. Only one library ever refused to do this for me, but I got the impression that the staff member was just not very friendly and did not want to bother. After all, if I had lost my library card completely, they would presumably look at my ID to get me a new one! But I was in a hurry that day, so I didn’t stick around to pursue the matter.

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The staff do not understand what you are asking.

Sometimes I have what I suppose are unusual requests for public libraries–I am looking for something like a very specific edition of a book or a particular translation or a book usually carried by academic libraries. Oftentimes, such requests can result in confusion on the part of library staff, who might try to tell me that they will not put in an ILL request for a book because “they already have it,” even though the book they have is a different edition or translation than the one I want. They do not understand that the books are not the same and not interchangeable. Since I’m used to confusing library staff by now, the best solution I have found is going in prepared. I will have everything written down, especially the ISBN, to make sure that they are requesting the exact edition I want, and not something like an abridged version or a children’s retelling or who knows what!

To be honest, this strategy does not always work for me, and I have still left libraries without being able to obtain what I was looking for. One library even curtly informed me to stop asking for a material, even though I only kept asking because they kept sending me the wrong item–and I even wrote notes in my request to explain as much. Other possibilities to find the correct item might be asking another staff member or even trying to see if a local academic library will give out cards to the public (usually for a fee), since academic libraries are presumably more accustomed to filling specific or niche requests. There are a few possible solutions, if one is willing to put in the effort to try.

What are some common library disappointments you have experienced? How did you solve them?

18 thoughts on “When Library Visits Go Wrong: What to Do in Five Common Disappointing Library Scenarios

  1. Eustacia | Eustea Reads says:

    Agree with the one on damaged books! I’ve found some with ripped covers and the staff can generally fix that with some tape and it really helps if you plan to borrow it!

    My current problems involve not being able to find library staff, because they started removing information counters!!


    • Krysta says:

      Yes, and I’ve heard that staff often prefer to fix it themselves because they have special book tape. So it’s actually better to ask than to tape it yourself, even if you think it’s being helpful!

      Yeah, I can see that. Here in the U.S. I think staff is being reduced, so sometimes there’s only one person on the floor and if they are busy helping someone else, you either have to interrupt or you’re out of luck.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. jordyn says:

    I probably use my library’s purchase request form at least once a week. They’re probably tired of me asking them to buy e-books for their online collection! I requested the entire Wheel of Time series be bought, along with several other missing books from popular series. I haven’t even borrowed these books yet, but they are ALWAYS checked out when I go and look.


  3. Sammie @ The Bookwyrm's Den says:

    Love your suggestions here, Krysta! As a librarian, I can confirm that we’re often unaware if there’s an incomplete series, because it’s usually due to a book never being returned so it seems like we still “have” the book. When you’ve got so many books to look after, it’s easy to overlook those things!

    So disheartening to hear the last one, though. I feel like librarians should understand about editions and translations. Very disappointing to hear that someone would ask you to stop requesting a book rather than simply trying to make sure you’re getting exactly the book you want.


    • Krysta says:

      I can definitely imagine the librarians just thinking a series is really popular and it’s always checked out when in fact the book has gone missing. That’s probably what I would think as a patron browsing!

      I think it’s a mixture of things. Some staff I’ve encountered over the years are admittedly not very knowledgeable or just seem to hate people (I guess customer service will wear you down like that). But I think some staff are just overworked and understaffed, and if they can’t do it immediately, they don’t really want to spend time trying to figure out. Just my speculation, though.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sammie @ The Bookwyrm's Den says:

        That sounds like a pretty fair assessment. I work at a small rural library, but we’re fortunate enough to have enough staff so that each full-time person has their own “department” (even though we don’t really have departments) that they’re in charge of. So our ILL person has the time to dedicate to ILLs, and we’re small enough where one person can handle it without any trouble. I can definitely relate to the whole being overworked and understaffed thing, though.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Mint says:

    My most common disappointments are usually related to the status of the space. Situations like dirty bathrooms and general spaces or feeling unsafe because someone is acting rudely.

    I understand that it’s not the librarian’s fault that this is occurring. Confronting patrons can also put them in dangerous situations. So, I usually just leave and try to come back another time or just browse online instead. And work to make sure that I’m not the dirty or dangerous patron!

    There’s also just general COVID related stuff, like if I get to the library and find that someone is hacking up a lung without a mask on, but I think that could be said about any public space.


    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      I have had the same issues with some libraries, and I think the staff really don’t feel empowered to ask people to leave who are making the space feel unwelcoming or unsafe. Half the time, you have someone at the desk barely making over minimum wage, and are they going to think it’s worth it to walk up to someone aggressive and ask them to stop and risk escalating the situation? Probably not. Unless the library has some policy where they can call security for back-up or something, they’re probably going to do nothing, and like you, I don’t really blame them.

      I’ve also spoken to enough people who work in various libraries who told me things about the assaults that happened in the bathrooms, or the kidnapping attempts, or that they need to do routine checks in the bathrooms to see if someone overdosed there, etc. that . . . I frankly have reservations about using library bathrooms. I mean, I DO use them them frequently, but I am wary. If I had a child with me, I honestly don’t think I would send them into a library restroom alone. I love libraries and think they’re important, etc., but I definitely think there are issues that people don’t really want to talk about. (And, yeah, it could be similar in other public places like, say, a mall restroom, but I don’t know people who work there who would fill me in on that.)

      Liked by 1 person

    • Krysta says:

      I never go into the restroom at the library, if I can help it. They are like any other public restroom, usually a bit isolated and thus a bit sketchy, and definitely dirty. I think libraries don’t usually keep custodians all day, so it probably gets cleaned once before opening and that’s it.

      I also have stopped using libraries to hang out in, study, etc. I did try for awhile, but there was one guy who would sit there and just stare at me. For hours. And it’s not like I can complain to the staff, “Can you make this man stop staring at me?” so now I pretty much look around, get materials, and leave.

      The reality is that public spaces are, well, open to the public and sometimes weird stuff happens. Staff I think often don’t do anything about it because there’s not much to be done.

      I have seen staff, for instance, ask a man in a business suit to take his laptop to the adult side instead of sitting at the children’s tables. The library does have a rule that unattended adults can’t hang out in the children’s area. They can look at books, but not sit all day.

      Well, the guy didn’t leave! He wanted to work on his laptop amongst all the children, for some reason. And that was that. The librarians just stood there awkwardly for a bit, then walked away.

      If someone doesn’t listen to staff, the next step is probably to get them escorted out of the building by police because, if they are asked to leave and don’t, it’s then trespass (I believe). But realistically, the staff aren’t going to call police escorts every time someone doesn’t listen to them and realistically most people probably don’t want libraries to be a place where everyone is being escorted out by police all day for small infractions.

      Basically, I think the problem is that the real world isn’t school. We can’t hand out demerits to rule breakers or call their parents to discipline them at home, and the rule breakers often know that there won’t be any consequences for their actions. We rely mostly on social shaming to get people to behave in public, but some people are immune to shaming. Business suit man probably knew if he just refused to listen to the (female) staff, they wouldn’t escalate it to a police escort, so he did want he wanted and he got away with it.


      • Mint says:

        It’s unfortunate, because a lot of this stuff – dirty bathrooms, creepy patrons, etc. – ends up driving away other people in the library. But like you said, there’s not much librarians can do about it.

        A couple of branches in my local library system employ security guards, and I wonder if they’ve had more luck enforcing safety. Not for small infractions, but larger things like assault and robbery (which unfortunately does happen from time to time at some of the branches).


        • Krysta says:

          Yeah, I was reading Amanda Oliver’s Overdue: Reckoning with the Public Library and she mentioned how her branch in DC was one certain patrons refused to spend time in. They’d put books on hold, pick them up, and leave. While I sympathized with her desire to have more people stay and appreciate the building and what it provided, she also chronicles a lot of violence and other dangerous situations that she says were not adequately addressed by admin, so it’s hard to say that the patrons should have stuck around to experience that firsthand.

          From her account, it appears that the DC public libraries have their own police force? She seems appreciative of them. She also mentions that often by the time outside police managed to show up at the building, the violent patrons had already left and the staff had had to deal with everything by themselves. So I can see why some libraries would want security guards to be there already on the scene, if needed.

          On the other hand, I think some libraries are trying to remove police from libraries in light of recent events. Having a police presence in the building isn’t necessarily welcoming to everyone.

          Liked by 1 person

  5. Ann says:

    Once I check out a book with pages ripe out. I left a sicky note in the book saying that there are pages ripe and I didn’t get fine for it.


    • Krysta says:

      I’ve done the sticky note thing, too! Sometimes because I didn’t want to be charged, sometimes because I wanted staff to know a disc wouldn’t play and they should look into it. (I wish the person who had the DVD before me had told staff the disc was unplayable!)


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