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


Lost Item Replacement Policy, And When To Ignore It

   January 30th, 2013 Brian Herzog

Chewed bookMy library recently updated our policy for patrons replacing lost or damaged items.

The problem that arose is that patrons would check out a book (say, a non-fiction book that was five years old, with a price in the record of $30) - then they'd lose it, and eventually they'd get a bill for $30. Our previous policy said patrons could replace lost/damaged items either by paying for it or by supplying another copy of the book.

This meant that, instead of paying the $30, patrons would often find used copies of the item online, for just a few dollars, and give that to us as a replacement copy.

The problem was that often these books were in terrible condition (sometimes even discarded from another library, with their stamps and stickers still on it). Not to mention that there would often be newer versions of this item available, which we would want to get instead of the old outdated one.

So, we updated our policy to be:

Lost/Damaged item fees

  • NO REPLACEMENTS ACCEPTED FOR BOOKS
  • Book or magazine - patron is charged 100% of the full price
  • DVD, music CD, or videogame - replacement allowed only if it is new and still sealed in the original package, otherwise the charge is the same as books, 100% of full price.
  • Book on CD - $10 per CD (if the entire item is lost, then 100% of full price.)
  • Playaway, CD-ROM, kit - 100% of full price
  • Lost CD or DVD insert - $2
  • Lost CD or DVD case - $2 (so lost case & insert is $4)
  • Still not sure what to charge? Call tech svcs

What to say when patrons ask...

Why can’t the library accept replacements for lost or damaged books anymore?

There are several reasons:

  • Many of the replacements we’ve been getting are used items in poor condition.
  • Replacing the exact same isbn can mean getting an old edition of a book when a newer edition is available.
  • In some cases, we don’t wish to replace the lost item, and would rather use the fee to buy something new that we need for our collection now.

Why does a replacement DVD, music CD or videogame have to be new & still sealed in the package?

  • For similar reasons – we’ve received old and/or used items to replace things we wouldn’t have bothered to replace at all.

Why is the replacement cost 100% of the full price? I can get it for less than that on Amazon!

  • True, but sometimes the items you get from Amazon are old and used, and you might not even realize it till it arrives.
  • Also keep in mind that when we replace a book or other item, it involves staff time to get the new item, catalog it, and process it to go into circulation.

This all happened a couple months ago. Then just a couple weeks ago, we received the following note from a patron:

Replacement Book Note

My favorite part is that she drew a picture of an open book on her note. Since the replacement copy she supplied was a brand new copy, and this title is still on the school's summer reading list, we just kept it.



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Warner Video Restricting DVD Sales to Libraries

   October 18th, 2011 Brian Herzog

Animaniacs see no Evil, Speak no Evil, Hear no EvilThe cataloger at my library found out last week that Warner Home Video has initiated a new policy that puts a serious crimp in the way libraries can buy DVDs - and I'm surprised it hasn't met the same uproar as HarperCollins' ebook policy.

The change is that Warner Home Video is forcing DVD distributors to:

  • place a 28 day embargo on sales of Warner feature titles to libraries
  • discontinue providing libraries with DVDs that contain all the bonus features, but instead only sell us the "rental" version that is just the movie

Midwest Tape explains the change on their website, and we also received an email directly from Ingram to the same effect. When our cataloger called Baker & Taylor to see if they were honoring it, they said our account had already been modified to bar us from ordering these DVDs, and they just didn't tell us they were doing it.

I see this policy has horribly misguided.

  • I presume it's designed to increase their DVD sales figures, but I don't think people who use library DVDs are likely to purchase these DVD on their own
  • this will likely increase pirated movies, because the people who want to watch movies for free will have to turn to illegal sources, instead of the legal copy they could have gotten at the library
  • not letting us buy the versions with bonus materials just seems vindictive - and since many patrons look for bonus materials, this is yet another instance that will require librarians to explain to patrons that it's the vendors that are keeping them from what they want, not us
  • although Warner is trying to pressure our traditional (and convenient) DVD sources from selling to us, libraries can still purchase the full versions as they are released from other sources, such as Amazon or local stores (although Warner is trying to force them to limit the number of DVDs someone can purchase at a time, but we usually only buy a few anyway)
  • besides patrons, Warner is mostly hurting its DVD wholesalers (like Midwest Tape, B&T, etc) - chances are we'll stop buying from them and go directly to retail outlets, which might lead to an erosion of their distribution network as a whole

A discussion has begun on the Publib listserv, and someone mentioned that this isn't a big deal because it's only one studio - but it only takes one to start the domino effect. However, I really do think this will all come down to sales, and I seriously doubt Warner will see any bump in their sales as a result.

For more information, or to express your opinion, contact Warner Home Video directly at 888-383-9483.

Update 10/19/11: Check out Library Journal for more on this.



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Free Books, not Free Hugs

   November 2nd, 2010 Brian Herzog

Free HugsYesterday afternoon, patrons suddenly started asking our Circulation staff why there was a man on our front steps holding a "Free Hugs" sign.

This was news to us, and since there were also a couple complaints, our Head of Circulation walked out and told the man that he can't do that on library property. The man, very nicely and politely, said okay and left.

It was a little strange, and got us thinking - why can't he do that? Our first thought was that it violated our "no soliciting" policy - but technically he was giving out hugs, not asking for them. We couldn't come up with a hard and fast rule that he was breaking, other than it was creeping out patrons and affecting their library use - which does violate our Appropriate Library Behavior policy.

But come on, hugs? I know libraries are open public buildings, and we need to make sure everyone feels comfortable using them. But when the free hugs guy gets banned, maybe dialing back the fear and restoring sanity isn't a bad idea.

But it gets better - a few hours later I saw this tweet:

All the news that's fit to tweet

Apparently he went from the library to the Town Center, where loads of people were out holding campaign signs (loitering?) - and someone called the cops on him for his "Free Hugs" sign.



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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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(Dreaming About) Appropriate Libraries Games

   January 14th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Library minigolfThis is bizarre: a little while ago I dreamed about telling an a adult patron he was being too loud in the library, because he was playing Marco Polo with his kids to entertain them. He yelled back, asking me what I expected him to do.

I went to the reference desk to review our games policy (this is a dream remember, so it made perfect sense at the time). It didn't mention specific games, so I sat down with my director and came up with a list of games that he could and couldn't play in the library:

Approved Games:
I Spy
Hide and Seek
Cards
Board Games
Puzzles
Button, Button, Who's Got the Button?
Thumb Wrestling
Sandman
Unapproved Games:
Marco Polo
Tag
Red Rover
Red Light, Green light
Duck Duck Goose
King of the Mountain

I remembered the dream when I woke up, so quickly wrote down the games I could recall. How sad that I dream about things like this.

However, it also reminds me of Library Mini Golf, which I think is a great idea. I also still like the idea of having tournaments for any number of video games (which, oddly, didn't make my dream list).



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Updating Library Policies

   September 8th, 2009 Brian Herzog

MacKay policiesI'm finally getting my library's updated policies online. We started revising them in April 2008, and the Trustees approved the new versions in April 2009, so I'm a bit behind.

Updating a Dreamweaver-based website is slow going, so I thought I'd share the new (footnoted) Reference policy here. The old policies are still online until I get all the new ones coded and published. Once that is done, our plan is to review them every three years (some of these hadn't been touched since 1999) to make sure they are up-to-date. I'm also trying to think of a better way to display them on our website - any ideas?

Reference Service Policy

The following guidelines should be used by Reference Department staff in providing answers and materials for ready-reference and general research questions taken in person, by telephone, by mail, or submitted electronically.

The primary role of the Reference Staff is to assist patrons with their information searches and to educate them in the location and use of all types of reference resources. While assistance will be provided, patrons should not expect Reference Staff to do their work for them. Staff should spend no more than 15 minutes assisting a patron before returning to the Reference Desk to be available to assist other patrons. Patrons are not permitted to purchase dedicated staff time for reference or research services; please see the Library's Gift and Donation Policy (4.3) for additional details.*

Confidentiality
All reference transactions should be treated with confidentiality, and the patron's right to privacy must be ensured. All information requests should be discussed only in a professional manner.

Timeliness
Patrons of all ages will be provided correct answers or referrals to their reference requests as soon as possible. If an answer cannot be provided within twenty-four hours, the patron will be informed of the status of their request.

While priority is given to walk-in patrons, telephone and electronic requests will be answered as quickly as possible. If "same day" service cannot be provided, the patron will be informed.

Locating Materials and Resources
Whenever possible, answers will first be sought using the resources available within the Chelmsford Library, whether print or electronic. The Reference Staff will also use the resources available through the Merrimack Valley Library Consortium (MVLC) and the Northeast Massachusetts Regional Library System (NMRLS). If an answer cannot be provided immediately using local resources, appropriate print or electronical materials will be requested or located on the patron's behalf.

Every effort will be made to provide patrons with a source for an answer, where appropriate. If a patron is unable to visit the Library, the staff should offer to mail, fax or email a copy of the material, or a bibliography of the resources used (reproduction and/or shipping costs may apply).

Loaning of Reference Materials
Reference material will not leave the building. Material in this area is considered to be important for ready access to patrons, or be irreplaceable local history items. Allowing References items to circulate defeats the purpose of having a separate section for reference use. Patrons are encouraged to photocopy if they need to have the printed material in hand.

Types of Questions
The Reference Staff strives to provide professional and complete answers to any type of question asked at the Reference Desk. In addition to general reference questions, the following types of questions receive special treatment:

  • Directory Information - Reference Staff will assist patrons searching for names, addresses, or other contact information in any publicly-available resource, including telephone books, city directories, and electronic resources. Reference staff will not provide personal information about other Library staff, nor information contained in their personnel files. Please contact Library Administration or the Town of Chelmsford Human Resources Department for personnel information.
  • Homework Assignments - The use of the Library for homework and research assignments is part of the educational process, and staff should strive to provide students with a positive library experience. Questions from students should be answered in the same manner as other informational requests, and additional time should be given to provide the student with informal bibliographical instruction and research techniques.**
  • Technology Questions - All Reference Staff will be proficient with the technology resources available within the library, and are responsible for assisting with electronic research resources and basic library computer and internet competencies. Technology questions beyond the scope of regular Library resources may be referred to the Head of Reference or the Library's technology administrator.
  • Medical/Legal/Financial Information - Medical, legal, tax and investing assistance is limited to directing patrons to Library resources and/or secondary referral sources such as local hospital libraries, law libraries, etc. Reference staff cannot, at any time, assist with the interpretation of medical, legal or financial information, or give patrons advice on these topics.
  • Trivia Questions - Trivia question should be considered in the same manner as other informational questions. In line with the Chelmsford Library's Public Service Policy (2.1), “The needs and requests of library patrons should always be taken seriously and treated with respect. Equal consideration should be given to all users in a non-judgmental environment.”

 


*I added this sentence to keep patrons from thinking they can "buy" reference staff time with gifts or donations, which also got included in the Gift and Donation Policy, so it would apply to all library staff

**I originally included a sentence saying that staff would focus on helping the student, and not anyone that might be accompanying them. The reason is that a lot of times, a parent brings their child in, but never lets the child speak or explain their assignment - the parents just wants to get as many books and possible and leave as quickly as possible. I'm not a parent so I can't criticize, but this bugs me to no end. However, the wording was awkward, and other department heads thought it sent a bad message, so it was cut.



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