For 3 years, it ran in the Greeley Tribune. Since then, it has run in various subsidiaries of the Douglas County News Press. I still have most of my columns in digital format.
For many years, I only gave myself one rule: try to work the word "library" into every piece. My intent was to think in public about just what librarianship means at the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st.
There have been many advantages for me. I found that putting library plans out in front of the public, and getting feedback about them, helped me make better decisions. Sometimes, I found that it was very difficult for me to describe those plans or policies -- the kind of thing that makes me realize that they might not be good ideas after all. The weekly discipline of explaining my profession to the public keeps me more mindful, more honest. It also has provided steady visibility for the library and its issues.
June 26, 1996 - Raising ILL Fines
When one of our patrons asks for a book, we usually buy it. Sometimes we can't.
Many titles are no longer in print. Borrowing it from another library -- a process called "Interlibrary Loan" or ILL -- is the only way to get it. Sometimes an item is unusually expensive, or of little general interest. In that case, ILL is more cost- effective. (Even then, if such a book is requested several times by more than one person, we usually try to pick it up.)
Generally speaking, ILL transactions don't make up a huge percentage of our business -- less than 1% of all our circulations. Direct patron purchases, by contrast, account for roughly 12-15% of our purchases. But interlibrary loans take up far more staff time per title.
How come? First, we have to find out who owns it. Even then, the item isn't necessarily on the shelf at the library that does own it.
Second, once the lending library snags it, the item still has to travel through various courier routes around the country and state before it gets to us. We've gotten books from as far away as Alaska and Hawaii, and as close as the Arapahoe Library District.
Third, all along the way, there's a small but significant amount of paperwork necessary to track the request.
Fourth, then we loan the item to one of our patrons, which requires both additional processing, and a phone call to the patron.
Fifth, on occasion, we send out an overdue notice or two to get the item back. Sixth and finally, we have to return the item to the lending library, with our thanks.
On the one hand, this level of cooperation among all types of libraries -- academic libraries, public libraries, school libraries, even such special libraries as medical and art collections -- is very unusual in American government. Many people aren't even aware that it exists: you just ask for something, and before very long, we get it for you. In my opinion, Interlibrary Loan is a library success story.
On the other hand, there are lots of ways for this cooperation to go wrong. And lately, at the Douglas Public Library District, we've noticed that some of the items we get through Interlibrary Loan just aren't coming back on time. We get them to our patrons, but some of our patrons don't return them when they're supposed to.
Frankly, this hurts our library's reputation. Before very long, other libraries begin to be unwilling to loan things to us. This threatens the quality of the service for the rest of our patrons.
As a result, I'm taking advantage of one of the (few!) powers enjoyed by a library director. I'm raising our late fees for interlibrary loan materials, effective June 26, 1996.
The fines used to cost a nickel a day. From now on, they'll cost fifty cents a day. (Incidentally, our old nickel-a-day charge was the lowest in the metro area.)
I emphasize that if you return Interlibrary Loan materials when you're supposed to, the service is still free. (Well, USUALLY free. Sometimes the lending library charges us a small fee, which a very few of them do, but we pass on to the patron.) The late fees only apply if you don't get the books back to us by their due dates.
Frankly, I don't view this as a money-maker. I hope we don't make a dollar on it. But I hope it does help us get those books back on time.
The interlibrary loan system depends upon the thoughtfulness and courtesy of all parties. It's important to keep up our end of the bargain.