Today there’s a thread going on AskMetafilter about Netflix for books. Many have chimed in promoting using the public library and ILL, but Mefite I EAT TAPAS is a detractor and currently has the final word:

Funny, here’s how the Inter-Library Loan process works in my city (which is a major urban center):

1) Check the web site to see if a book is available. The listing for the book appears. The library has multiple copies. The copies are labeled:

MISSING — the book has not been returned.
DUE M/D/Y — the book is due on a particular date. These dates are usually in the past. After a couple of years, it will be marked MISSING.
CHECK SHELF — this also means that the book is MISSING.

2) Use the online form to enter your library card, the book, and the branch you want the book to go to.
3) Nothing happens. Wait several months.
4) You notice that a book is now listed as CHECK SHELF at a local branch. Having lost faith in the ILL process, you try to visit that branch, but it is closed for the weekend to a local festival.
5) You run to that branch on the Thursday it’s actually open past 6pm, push through the barren shelves, and notice that the last remaining books are Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock and a Sweet Valley High book from the 80s. The book is not on the shelf. The librarian shrugs and changes its status to MISSING.
6) You go home and order the book used off of Amazon for $.01 plus shipping.

I’m sure other people have library systems that actually work, but please don’t assume the poster is insane for wanting to use a commercial lender as an alternative. I’d be interested in a functional alternative to my local library myself.

I’ve been really interested lately in the fact that public libraries across the country (and world) each provide vastly different experiences. I can’t help but think that some consistency would do us good, but wow, how can that happen with the myriad factors that influence individual libraries?