Rank your library (not a joke)

Montréal is a fine city with generally excellent public services; the only real complaint I have so far is that people smoke in bars and restaurants, but a provincial ban is expected to be enacted this spring, to come into force later this year. That said, I don’t understand why the libraries here aren’t better than they are.

My card gives me privileges at most of the libraries on the island. However, there’s no way to get a book from some far-flung branch sent to you – you have to go yourself (although you can return it anywhere you like). There’s an awkward but usable catalogue, which tells you whether a book is currently signed out but doesn’t list due dates, so you have little idea when to check again. You can place a reservation on a record out on loan, but only by paying a small fee, in person. The website will allow you to list what’s out on your card, but it’s flaky, and to renew anything you have to actually phone the branch yourself. Not all records list some information, such as language (one can generally deduce this from the title and publisher, but not always). And if you have overdue items, you will be informed via telephone by an automated system which doesn’t give the name of the book nor of the patron. (I’m currently getting calls about a book 21 days late signed out by someone who had this number before me.) Branches all have different hours, and most are closed Mondays, as well as on Sundays for about a third of the year. And the areas of the city which choose to run their library independently issue separate cards. They do deliver books by mail for free if a doctor testifies that you’re homebound for medical reasons, which is considerate, but I still had expected better.

I haven’t had these problems in any city I’ve lived in before. In Alberta, where then provincial education minister Stockwell Day tried to ban one of my all-time favourite novels from a high school library, you can use your card to sign out books anywhere in the province, or get them sent to your branch for free. Have I just been lucky up until now? I’m curious to know whether this is unusual.