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

Abbie Anderson aanderson at cclsd.org
Mon Jul 9 18:35:10 PDT 2012

Bless you in Lincoln County who don't charge late fees. A library is a 
much happier place to work in and to visit without the trouble we have 
over charging and collecting late fees. If you can get by without that 
revenue (revenue offset by staff time and trouble...), that's a very 
good thing.

There are also PR arguments, both for and against late fees. You have 
friendlier relations at the circulation desk if you don't have to talk 
about late fees, and you can spend more time actually helping people if 
you're not pausing to remind people about late fees and to collect late 
fees. Late fees sometimes make people feel judged or criticized or 
shamed, which is not how we'd like them to feel about the library. Then 
the other PR side is when some voters say, "Hey, why are you asking me 
for another library levy when you don't charge late fees? Shouldn't you 
charge people first? Are you socialists or something?" (well, 
actually...) Sigh.

I also love the people in Coos County who cheerily pay their late fees, 
laughing and saying, "I just think of it as my contribution to the 
library!" Which it is.

Again, a good cost-benefit analysis is helpful for this issue. How much 
revenue do we actually get from late fees? How much do we spend (staff 
time, consumables and postage for notices) collecting and pursuing late 
fees and other fines?

And I'm having too much fun thinking about (and typing about) library 
issues on my day off. The messages wouldn't be nearly so long if I were 
at work today!

Abbie Anderson
Assistant Director
North Bend Public Library

On 07/09/2012 05:27 pm, Diedre Conkling wrote:
> 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  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 [1]
>> Coos County Library Service District
>> www.cooslibraries.org [2]
>> 541.756.1073 [3]
>> --
> _Diedre Conkling_
>  _Lincoln County Library District_
> _P.O. Box 2027_
> _Newport, OR 97365_
>  _Phone & Fax: 541-265-3066_
> _Work email__: __diedre at lincolncolibrarydist.org_ [5]
>  _Home email: __diedre08 at gmail.com_ [6]
> Links:
> ------
> [1] http://www.northbendlibrary.org
> [2] http://www.cooslibraries.org
> [3] http://mail.cclsd.org/tel:541.756.1073
> [4] mailto:aanderson at cclsd.org
> [5] mailto:diedre at lincolncolibrarydist.org
> [6] mailto:diedre08 at gmail.com

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