or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk


Gamify Your Library Fines

   March 31st, 2011 Brian Herzog

Your Speed Is police radar cameraLast weekend I heard a story on NPR about how Sweden is turning driving the speed limit into a game - complete with cash rewards.

Instead of just using traffic cameras to catch people speeding, they're using them to also catch people obeying the speed limit - and by following the law, those people earn a chance at winning a share of the revenue generated by speeding tickets. By offering a reward, the police are hoping to encourage more people to drive safely.

The theory, called gamification, is that people enjoy playing games because of the positive reinforcement from doing something well - thus turning something normally punitive, like a speeding fine, into a game of consequences: play badly and get punished, play well and get rewarded.

How awesome would it be to do this with library overdue fines?

I prefer not charging fines at all, like my library, because I personally don't think fines should be a revenue stream for libraries. It's more important to get materials back on time than to profit from irresponsibility.

Which is why this sounds like a great idea to me - it focuses on responsible borrowing, and in a fun way.

I haven't worked out all the logistics, but it seems possible to try it for one week a month, one month a year, etc. And ideally, there would be as many "winners" as possible - so instead of one grand prize winner, a whole bunch of names could be drawn who each win $5 or $10 - chances are, many of them will donate it back to the library anyway, but still feel good about winning.

There might be a problem with libraries giving away money (although fines aren't tax money), in which case there could be a different prize - maybe a $5 gift certificate to the book sale. Anything to reward good behavior - and highlight that it is important to get library materials back on time.



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Library Overdue Policies in the News

   April 27th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Library Police signI'm sure most people by now have seen the story about George Washington having overdue books from the New York Society Library.

This got me thinking about overdue books. The ALA's 2010 State of American Libraries Report was just released, but one statistic it did not include was the number of American households with overdue library material. It must be a high percentage, or else this news story (via LISNews) from Solano County, CA, wouldn't be possible:

Someone has been calling residents posing as a collection agency working with the library, and demanding they provide their credit card number over the phone to pay off fines for overdue material. It sounds like an Urban Legend (but it's not), and since it's on the internet, the same scam might start cropping up in other communities.

My library doesn't charge overdue fines (though we do suspend borrowing privileges for gross offenders), but it's never a bad time to review library policies in case patrons (or staff) have questions. If we did charge fines, I would lobby to implement my favorite tactic, overdue amnesty week, with people getting their fines waived if they return library materials with a non-perishable food item. Or, we could try (passive-aggressive) anti-theft signage.



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Book Due Date Calendar

   April 20th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Overdue Book CalendarI feel a little sheepish whenever I talk about a product on here, because I don't want to come off sounding like a commercial. But I thought this Book Due Date Calendar was a good idea.

It's available on Etsy from a seller called Aunt June, and it's a fun and creative way for patrons to keep track of when their library books are due.

Paper for our receipt printers is expensive, so we ask people if they need a receipt instead of printing one automatically - which means many people leave the library without any tangible reminder of when their books are due back. I've seen libraries use due date bookmarks, which are also a good idea, but this calendar was colorful and definitely eye-catching enough to be a great reminder (especially for kids) - kind of like a real-world Library Elf.

Here's what it looks like in action:

Overdue Book Calendar

It looks like you download a pdf, which is nice because you can print out extras if you're a heavy library user. I wonder if you could print it onto some kind of glossy paper that might work like a dry erase board. I also wonder if the seller would be willing to work out some deal with libraries to let them sell these as fundraisers.

Thanks for the tip Lauren.



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