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Lost Item Replacement Policy, And When To Ignore It

   January 30th, 2013

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mention that there would often be newer versions of this item available, which we would want to get instead of the old outdated one.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

  • 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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9 Responses to “Lost Item Replacement Policy, And When To Ignore It”

  1. Amelia Says:

    We accept replacements but they have to be an exact copy in excellent condition. The Branch Manager can reject the replacement which means they have to pay. It isn’t too often that a patron wants to try to find an exact copy in excellent condition so they end up paying.

  2. Jami Says:

    We used to accept any book as a replacement, even if it wasn’t the same book or even in the same category. Like say you lost a fiction book, you could replace it with a non-fiction.

    Now it’s per the branch manager and only if they can find a good, clean copy with the exact same ISBN. No giving us highlighter filled copies from garage sales or anything like that – which people have tried with the kids’ paperbacks.

    And you should see some of them flip their lid when they hear about the $5 processing fee. Especially for paperbacks that only cost about $3.

  3. Ken V Says:

    This is a terrible change to the policy. You should accept used copies if they are in good condition, and the same edition. Some of the media that I borrow are in deplorable condition to begin with.

  4. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Ken: I think you actually answered your question for me – our goal is avoid making our patrons use library materials that are in poor condition, which is why we decided not to accept used replacements any more. That way, buying new copies means we’re starting off fresh, instead of lowering the quality bar right off the bat and making subsequent borrowers suffer.

    Also, quality is definitely a subjective thing – saying we don’t accept them at all prevents the situation of a patron going and buying a used copy, then us saying it’s not in good enough condition and making them pay the full replacement cost anyway. In that case, the patron is out more money than they needed to be, and there will probably be bad feelings that we made them waste money. We wanted a policy that makes it clear up front what is acceptable.

    Also too, about buying exact replacements: this is especially true with non-fiction, but we don’t always want that exact edition of the book. If it’s an old medical book, outdated financial information, or whatever, we’d rather buy the newest edition. Or not at all if we have lots of other materials in that subject already, and use the money to grow a different part of the collection.

    We try to get this stuff off the shelves in the first place (along with items in poor condition), but unfortunately we don’t have the budget to replace our entire collection. There’s a big difference to something being “good enough to keep” as opposed to “worth spending money to replace.” Update, yes, replace, not usually. It’s often a fine line, but decisions like this (managing tax-funded resources to the best advantage the community) are part of a librarian’s job.

    Oh, and something else important to point out is that this policy isn’t the final word on everything. Like with the girl who brought in a new copy of Esperanza Rising, we accepted it instead of making her give us money – policies are living documents, but we still are able to use common sense and be flexible depending on the circumstances.

  5. Jen Says:

    Your policy sounds reasonable. We had problems with patrons trying to get the exact same copy and ran into the same problems you all did.

  6. Anne Says:

    I run a library at a charter school. When I bill for a lost or damaged book, the wording of the bill is that the book “must be paid for or returned in good condition,” and the price listed is the replacement price, rounded up to the nearest dollar. But if there is a hardship situation, I will often accept a used copy in good condition, or sometimes an alternate title from the student’s own books, if it’s one we can use. I try to work with the kids – I want to encourage responsibility, but I also do not want to discourage them from using the library.

  7. Mary Says:

    Our policy is almost identical and we’ve had it for years. Lost CDs and DVDs can be replaced with exact brand new copies still in plastic, but full replacement charges must be paid for lost books. We also charge a $5 processing fee on top of the replacement cost. This $5 can also be charged if the insert or case is lost or damaged, etc. Also, lost or damaged magazines or uncatalogued paperback are only charged a $5 flat replacement fee rather than the actual cost.

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  9. Jim Says:

    Something else to consider is the loss of items because of increased value in the secondary market.

    As an example, one library I worked with had a DVD set of the 1960’s Avengers television show. When it was purchased, the set was in the range of $40. Now the set is out of print and it’s selling on Amazon for more than $100, used.