Library Elf – Free Alerts To Prevent Overdue Library Books

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Library Elf is a third-party website worth checking out that helps you keep track of library books that are due soon, overdue, and ready for pickup. Their free service offers basic e-mail reminders on borrowed items that are either due soon or overdue for a single library card.

Their premium service features text message alerts, alerts for holds that are ready for pickup, and the ability link up multiple library cards (handy for families) for a $20 annual fee. New users get a free trial. If you’re really lucky your local library might be listed as a subscriber, meaning they’ve paid a bulk fee so that all of their patrons get premium service for free.

If you really want to manage multiple cards with basic alerts while still avoiding the annual fee, there is a simple workaround. Simply sign up each person’s card with a unique e-mail address (don’t all kids have their own e-mails now?), and then make a filter to forward the Elf e-mails to your primary desired e-mail. Even simpler, if you use Gmail you can use “” and “” to sign up for separate accounts, but all incoming e-mail will end up at the same place.

I love my local library, but their online library software leaves a lot to be desired. Hold notices still arrive only by snail-mail which I think is wasteful since they could just use e-mail. Until a few months ago, I had to call in to renew any titles; finally at least I can do that online. I only get overdue notices if I’m already late by over a week. I guess I’m just frustrated because I know that this type of thing is not very difficult to program and implement. I know that returning late library books are my responsibility, but a better system would prevent overdue books overall and thus improve book availability for everyone.

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  1. Wow! I was reading this thinking, “Um, doesn’t the library do all this for you?” 😀 This post makes me appreciate my library. & sounds like a nice option for those libraries that are behind the times.

  2. The king County and Seattle library systems are great – online renewal, online checkout of ebooks, e-mailed alerts for holds, when your books will be overdue in a few days, and again if you actually let them become overdue. Online ability to set holds. Basically, their system does everything I would ask it to do. It’s a hair slow, but I’m really impressed. Not only that, but they’re actually on their second set of software to do this, so it’s not a new thing. They recently switched to some kind of opensource software, so they could make upgrades when they wanted to.

  3. Ack! Your library doesn’t have this feature?! I get the most basic plain text email from my library when I’m within a few days of my due date. Nothing fancy, but at least it’s there. Online features are a must have at a library. Online renewal, request holds, etc. I won’t need this service, but I guess if I ever move again, I’ll look into it.

  4. Thank you so much for this post! I have looked into Library Elf before and never realized that my library was a subscriber. Now I can stop logging in and out of 5 separate library accounts to keep track of our books. Library Elf will definitely make my life simpler.

  5. Alexandria says

    P.S. After getting over my initial shock, I realized this could be useful for tracking kids’ library doings. Especially now that our library charges a large fee for not picking up holds.

  6. I’ve heard about Library Elf before. I’ve always been a little dubious because, last I checked, it required me to hand over my library card and PIN. Though, I’m a bit on the paranoid side when it comes to some things 🙂

    I work in the IT department of a library. Theoretically, it’s not difficult to program and implement a reasonable overdue system. However, in practice there are often a lot of hurdles for some libraries. My best guess, since you mention the other things it lack, is they’re on an older system. Most of the older systems don’t have a good way for a 3rd-party to integrate with it. Obviously, it’d be better to upgrade to a newer system but they tend to be very, very expensive because it’s such a niche market. Screen scraping is also a possibility, which I assume Library Elf does, but that requires programmers who aren’t cheap either. Plus, it’s got to be something you’re sure can stay supported. Many libraries can’t offer salaries that are competitive enough to tempt IT professionals to work for them so they make do with whoever in the organization is least afraid of the computer. Even if your city is well-off doesn’t automatically mean they’re giving the library enough to function on.

    Anyway, I hear you, it’s frustrating. Librarians get frustrated too by the choices they have available. Our patron catalog still doesn’t offer a built-in spell check (the vendor has tried to sell us a $20,000 add-on product to fix that — it can do other things too but we weren’t convinced it was worth the money). We eventually used a third-party contractor to hack a spell checker in which means it can break every upgrade we do. We’ve been lucky with that particular customization. However, there are other add-ons we’ve purchased to enhance functionality we think should have been there all along that have literally consumed 100s of hrs of IT time because the product is so cantankerous. We are planning to migrate to a new system in 2014 (have just started the selection process) but it’s really depressing how few good vendors there are available.

  7. I second the “your system must be old” reply. Assuming that to be the fact then your library folks are also pulling their hair out.

    Gem….you say that you are going to migrate to a new system in 2014 and startin g the selection process….my library is talking to a bunch of ILS vendors and I sat through a bunch of demos and I have to say that by 2014 they will all be very different by then.

  8. I know that our library system has been trying to make do with less money as they keep cutting open hours at our branch, although they just opened a brand new 3-story branch in a fancy part of town, so I wonder how much politics has to do with some of those things.

    We try to do what we can, we joined the “Friend of the Library”, donate money, donate books, (pay lots of late fees!), and also buy donated books at their annual book sale. I wonder how much the bulk fee for Library Elf is.

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