Ah, the pesky overdue. Does the overdue notice, and its cousin, the fine, still have a place in a library? Matt Ball, from the Woodruff Library at Pace Academy in Atlanta, Georgia, posed these questions (and his answers) on the AISL discussion list:
Why do we have overdues? (To get books back.)
Why do we want them back? (So other students can check them out.)
Do other students want to check them out? (Don’t know. But with popular titles, yes.)
Matt continued: “Centrally, my feeling is that if a student wants a book and has it checked out, let them keep it until someone else needs it.” Steve Matthews, from the Currier Library at Foxcroft School agrees: “Certainly, there is the chance of missing a serendipitous opportunity of person finding book/media by lucky chance, but since the person who checked it out has already made a connection, that seems enough.”
And yet, the concept that library books are for sharing seems central to me. Building the character trait of responsibility seems important to me: if you borrow something, please return it as agreed, or ask for an extension. And since I promote the idea of browsing when you are in the mood to read, I want popular books frequently in and out, to be browsed. When books are (as Carolyn LaMontagne at the Reed-Gumenick Library at Collegeiate Middle School says) “living in a locker or under a bed” how does that affect other library patrons?
One thing that’s been great: Our circulation software sends an automated email notice two days in advance of the due date, with the subject line: Courtesy Reminder: Library material due soon. This gives students (if they check their email, which not all do!) every chance to get in front of the overdue. We renew most books upon request. I have a template for a “gentle reminder” email (Joanne Crotts also uses that phrase at the Skinner Library at the Asheville School) that I send individually, using school email, the first week a book is past due. Week two is a phone call, if there is a family phone. If no family phone, I try to catch the student between classes, or send a second email, rather than call a parent cell phone. The third notice is an email to the child with a cc: to the parent email(s). Past that is a follow up email, with the replacement cost “if the book is lost.”
To touch on fines: Our policy is 10 cents a day, but students rarely have money on them, and the fines are usually minimal. Usually I will delete the fine with a smile and ask the student to “pay it forward” and do something nice for someone else. That saves me a headache over 80 cents, and still reminds the student of the policy and holds them accountable for the late return.
This is a blog post without a “right” answer. Different policies will work for different librarians and different populations. As I expand my notion of what a library is (and it’s expanded it a lot in the past 5 years!) I’m glad that overdue items take up a smaller percentage of my time.
Plaase leave a comment and/or share ideas if you have an system that works for you!