Thursday, February 27, 2014

VPL Inspiration Pass

The Vancouver Public Library offers a really rad service called the Inspiration Pass. It's a pass that allows free access to 25 different events and activities around Vancouver, from museums, to farms, to musical performances, to ice rinks. And it's a super popular program, which is both great and terrible.

I put a hold on an Inspiration Pass just over a year ago on February 23rd, 2013. I'm currently 224th in line (for one of five copies at that branch). There are currently 525 people on this hold list, which is (just) the shortest of any of the 21 hold lists (every branch has some passes). While it's cool that this program exists, I really have to question multiple year long wait lists. There are somewhere over 100 passes available throughout the library system (their site says 120, but I can only identify 115 on their website's catalogue). Each branch gets five, while the main branch has 15.

Unlike other hold systems where you place the hold and you can pick it up at any branch, in this case you have to pick it up at the branch specified. Since they're at every branch, this isn't really the problem.

The problem are (as I said) the massive wait lists! Here's a list of the various branches and the number of holds each has.

Carnegie - 525
Dunbar - 526
West Point Grey - 526
Strathcona - 526
Collingwood - 529
Kerrisdale - 530
Fraserview - 530
South Hill - 531
Champlain Heights - 532
Firehall - 536
Marpole - 536
Kensington - 549
Joe Fortes - 553
Britannia - 557
Kitsilano - 580
Renfrew - 589
Terry Salmon - 572
Hastings - 592
Mount Pleasant - 604
Oakridge - 625
Central Branch - 1729 (averages to ~576 per 5 passes)

Total: 12777!

Now, it is possible to place a hold on more than one of these, but once one shows up all your others get cancelled. You're also limited to borrowing only one pass a year, but that's clearly not going to be a problem any time soon. So why is it taking so long? The borrowing time for each pass is two weeks, and I have no idea how long they'll actually hold them for you. I think holds are 5 business days, but I'm not totally sure. We'll say a week total.

(one week hold) + (two weeks borrowing) x 110 (approximate number for how many holds per pass) = (how long you have to wait to pick up a pass)

That's, uh, a little over SIX YEARS. Okay, so it's not actually that bad. Some people pick up their holds on the first day, some people return their passes after a day, some people never pick up the holds in the first place. So the actual time each pass is out is in use by each patron is less than the maximum. I don't remember exactly, but I think I was in the mid 400s when I joined the hold list last year (so it looks like the hold lists have actually gotten longer), but that means they're getting through about 200 holds per branch per year, so it's really only a 2-3 year wait. Much better!

Other library systems offer similar programs, and from my anecdotal evidence they generally work on a first-come, first-serve basis and are valid for less time. Sure this means that if you can't get to the library at 10am you might not get one, but more people in total will end up using them. A friend even suggested that there should be a way to do this using technology. Upon reaching the front of the hold queue the patron gets emailed a limited use bar code that can be printed off or shown on a device. It expires in x days and the next person gets sent one immediately afterwards.

To me this sounds great, but another friend said that at this point the VPL can't change how they've been doing things as people would complain a lot. It doesn't matter that more people would get to use the service, but that whoever the complainer is _didn't_. I guess that VPL just didn't think that this program would be anywhere near this popular and didn't predict years long waiting lists. Unfortunately "owing to the agreements with our partners we are unable to expand the program at this time".

I have other problems with the waiting lists (“two adults and up to four children aged 18-years and younger” or “up to six young people aged 14 to 18 years old", bleh), but that'll have to wait until I actually get the pass. Hopefully some time next summer I'll be able to post about the awesome museums I got to visit!

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