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.
August 16, 2000 - Videos and Fines
Videos came into library collections about 15 years ago. Right off the bat, they were very popular. They were so popular, in fact, that we applied some internal controls to ensure that people would get them back quickly so other people could check them out.
Most library materials go out these days for two weeks. But when we first offered videos, they went out for just 3 days.
Most library materials have a fine of a nickel a day -- more of a gentle reminder than a threat. But with videos, we charged fifty cents a day. We REALLY wanted them back.
But our collection of videos has grown over the years. We have over 15,000 of them -- about 4% of all of our holdings. Videos continue to be popular -- accounting for over 13% of our total checkouts in 1999. The most popular videos, incidentally, are children's.
Over the past year, we've been trying to simplify library procedures. Consistent rules are not only easier for the public to remember, but for staff to interpret.
At a recent staff meeting, we realized that we spend a lot of time explaining videos fines. It isn't always a happy discourse. Too, we've noticed that the people who get stuck with the biggest fines tend to be parents of small children.
So we asked two questions, "Has our fine structure outlived its usefulness?" and "Are we punishing some of our best customers?" After some discussion, our managers concluded that the answer to both of these questions was, "Yes."
So effective immediately, I'm lowering our fines for videos from fifty cents a day to a nickel a day, the same as (almost) everything else.
We also talked about bumping up the loan period for videos. But we had already moved the loan period from 3 days to a 1 week checkout some time ago. Most of our staff felt that that was still about right. People tend to keep out our materials almost exactly as long as we check them out.
If my experience is any guide, videos tend to stick around until the day before I have to take them back. Then I watch them. A week is generous -- two weeks means we'll just have a lot of videos sitting unused in people's houses. So the one week loan period for videos will remain.
At this point, we have just two other exceptions now to our general rule of a 2 week loan period and a nickel a day fine. Interlibrary Loan materials -- that is, items that we borrow from other libraries -- may be checked out for something other than 2 weeks if that's the restriction placed on us as a condition of borrowing. These materials will continue to have fines of fifty cents a day because the items do not belong to us, and we need to encourage people to bring them back promptly.
The other exception is Educational Materials. This category doesn't have a great many members, but includes such things as the Hooked on Phonics tapes. Items in this category have three characteristics:
(1) They tend to be designed for a longer period of use -- typically, a month. Hence, the loan period for these materials is one month, without renewal.
(2) They tend to have long waiting lists. This means, again, that we want them to keep moving. Hence, we have a higher fine: $1 a day past the due date.
(3) They are expensive, running hundreds of dollars instead of $15 or $20 (closer to our average cost for library materials. This too speaks to the higher fine rate.
Nonetheless, by changing the video fines, we have taken a step toward regularizing procedures for the vast majority of all library materials. Enjoy!