[Libs-Or] Library cards for homeless/those without permanent address

Diedre Conkling diedre08 at gmail.com
Mon Jul 9 17:27:50 PDT 2012

Most of the libraries in Lincoln County don't charge fines so we, happily,
don't spend the time an energy on that issue.  Of course, overdue notices
and bills for unreturned items are sent out. We also do have limits on the
number of items that can be checked out.

I really hate to see fines stopping people from using libraries.  Sometimes
those who can't pay the fines are the ones who most need the libraries.
Even if they have a more permanent address they may live in a situation
where keeping track of materials can be challenging but they get the items
back to the library, just late.

On Mon, Jul 9, 2012 at 5:00 PM, Abbie Anderson <aanderson at cclsd.org> wrote:

> Chiming in at much too much length...
> On a practical level: One of the best options is to issue a limited card
> to people who can't meet your residence standards, no matter the reason.
> Limit the number of items they can check out and possibly the types of
> items they can check out (say, 1 DVD or music CD at a time); prevent them
> from placing holds, prevent them from using your ILL service; make the card
> itself temporary, so that you ask for address verification again within a
> set period of time (maybe things will change for them!). When you have
> local agencies that provide mailing addresses for people they shelter, as
> they do in Multnomah and Eugene (hurray!), take advantage of that. Then
> track your statistics, and evaluate the policy. Are these limited cards
> causing you more losses than other cards? How much? Is that acceptable for
> your budget? Answer those questions, and keep offering the best access you
> can within your means.
> On a philosophical level: Our mission is to provide access. But we have
> fiscal responsibility not only to the taxpayers and donors that fund us,
> but to our budgets. Some of us just can't afford the costs of lost
> materials and of staff time dealing with fines that may never be paid--and
> experience teaches us that those costs go up when we are trying to serve
> people in precarious situations.
> Another side of it is that people whose lives right now preclude stable
> housing or income *also* can't afford library fines--and they are more
> likely to incur those fines because they have less control over items in
> their possession, their transportation, their schedule, and their physical
> health and safety. We are potentially making more trouble for them by
> issuing them library cards and letting them take things home that may not
> come back, or may not come back in time, or may come back damaged. It's
> just one more dimension to the cruelty of poverty, homelessness, domestic
> violence, developmental and mental health challenges, and addictions.
> And *another* side is that fines represent a significant revenue stream
> for the library--revenue that is degraded by the amount of staff time
> required to deal with fines, particularly those that require pursuit.
> Fiscally, we don't want to accrue fines that don't get paid or take a lot
> of effort to get paid: it's not just lost revenue, it's extra costs from
> staff time.
> Of course, library losses and fines also regularly occur with people who
> verified their addresses when they established their library accounts.
> People move; people lose their homes; people refuse or are unable to pay a
> fine; people are bad at managing library material and due-dates. This is
> another reason to analyze your statistics, and understand the full picture.
> In Coos County, we don't allow my "best option" above. We have a policy
> that allows us to issue provisional library cards with limited circulation
> for people who have permanent addresses elsewhere, and also an address
> locally that accepts mail (like an RV park; some of our libraries also
> sometimes accept "General Delivery" as an address...). For people new to
> the area, or who have just moved, who can't verify their local address, at
> North Bend we give them a postcard and ask them to mail it to themselves at
> the address they just gave us. They can then bring the postcard back in as
> proof of deliverable address. We recently implemented a temporary card for
> people who have PO Boxes, but no proof of local street address.
> We also have a controversial "Banned Addresses" list, at least for the two
> largest libraries in North Bend and Coos Bay. These are the local homeless
> shelters, temporary housing programs, and a Women's Resource and Safety
> Center. The Women's Center has several different housing locations, and
> rightly guards the actual locations of women staying with them. They also
> do not accept mail for the women in their programs. Our policy is to refuse
> library cards to people at those addresses, and to block cards of people
> who move to one of those addresses (and give us that address when updating
> their accounts). I wish it weren't so, but my Business Manager is very
> persuasive regarding how much time she has to spend on fines and losses
> associated with those addresses.
> Bob is right that anyone can use materials in the building (and computers,
> depending on your policies). Many libraries also provide a "browsing" or
> "honor" collection of inexpensive and/or donated paperbacks and children's
> materials, as we do at North Bend. Anyone can take those items home without
> checking them out (we just ask them to tell us how many they took, for
> record-keeping). However, it seems that people in the most difficult
> circumstances seem to want primarily DVDs, and lots of them at a
> time--which we just can't do.
> In Coos County, I would like to reexamine our policy, and issue very
> limited cards to people who can't verify any address: one item at a time,
> no holds, no ILLs. That way we would control potential losses, and a person
> in difficult circumstances would limit their own potential damages while
> also learning how using the library works for them.
> One of my staff members told me that she sometimes wants to say to people,
> after wrangling with them for the umpteenth time about how the items didn't
> come back in time and how there are fines now (and listening to their
> variable stories about how the items really did come back or why they
> didn't come back in time or how they really shouldn't have to pay this),
> "Maybe the library is just not for you!" She has a point. Some people have
> a very hard time managing their library materials--and these are the people
> who *do* have verified addresses.
> For what it's worth; your mileage may vary...
> Abbie Anderson
> Assistant Director
> North Bend Public Library
> www.northbendlibrary.org
> Coos County Library Service District
> www.cooslibraries.org
> 541.756.1073
> --
*Diedre Conkling**
Lincoln County Library District
P.O. Box 2027
Newport, OR 97365
Phone & Fax: 541-265-3066
Work email**: **diedre at lincolncolibrarydist.org*<diedre at lincolncolibrarydist.org>
Home email: **diedre08 at gmail.com* <diedre08 at gmail.com>

 "If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change
your attitude."--Maya Angelou
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