The passing of overdue fines?

Busy blogging day, but Dewey and fines are related in terms of borrowers, but they are also big enough to warrant their own entries. So here’s to fines.

My public library service was very late in coming to fines. Our service has been in existence since 1970 with one branch, but we didn’t introduce fines until the early 1990’s (either then or the late 80’s). At that time, the average loan period on items was 6 weeks – our loans periods then were 4 weeks on print and audio books and 1 week on other AV. I was never a big fan when we were introducing them, but grew to love them when I could see how they worked. We don’t make tons of money from fines, but what is earned is sown back into buying more for our collections – patrons paying overdue fines get a some satisfaction from that at least.

Now in 2006, with 7 branches, our library manager is reconsidering having overdue fines – which is also at a time when the issue has been popping up in several of the blogs I regularly read. It is interesting reading both sides of the issue, particularly when I have been on either side at one time or another.

I think my first awareness of the issue in the blogosphere, was when several of the blogs I regularly read pointed me to an article in the Christian Science Monitor – “Is the lifting of library fines long overdue?” Interesting too was the poll which followed up a month later at http://www.csmonitor.com/poll/index.php?poll_id=421 – be sure to read the disclaimer.

It turns out this was another link in a chain of discussions which surfaces on a regular basis, but as I am relatively new to the blogosphere, was new to me in this format. There is no middle ground on the blog entries I have come across, they are either vehemently for or against library overdue fines. Check out some of the discussions on this and other library policies and rules, with ensuing comments at Information Wants to be Free, Walking Paper, Librarian.net and Librarian in Black, just to name a few. Whilst doing some more background for this entry, I did a search on Google Blog search on library fines and got over 22,000 hits. Its definitely a topic of discussion in blogs.

So where do I stand now on overdue fines? In all I have read, from both sides I can find no basis for disagreement. All the arguments are well reasoned and have solid bases. I have a history, as I said earlier, of vacillating between the two sides and its time for the pendulum to swing the other way. At a time where our society is changing, the library needs to change too and this is one of the areas I think we can make a positive change – a great PR move if you like.

If my library service goes down this path, as I believe it might, we will still have policies in place to get our stock returned, as we do now, but we won’t penalise late returns. Most of our fines are small – because items are only a little overdue. Many of these borrowers are regular late returners but only ever by a few days at most. To them we would give the freedom to be a little late. To those who bring back items late or never return them or don’t borrow due to the fear of fines, maybe they’ll come back earlier, bring them back altogether and return without fear of penalty. The small percentage that don’t return items, we will follow up with existing long overdue policies which includes using a collection agency and charging the borrower their fee.

In reference to the concerns about request for books being unsatisfied, think how much cheaper and easier it would be to satisfy those unfilled holds by being the odd extra copy of a title as required. In the meantime, we have a better situation at the front desk, less disputes, more happy people – both staff and borrowers.

So yes, I believe dropping library fines is a good idea. Its a big change in library policy and could be considered a risk, but I think its one worth taking.

Dewey and its future in public libraries

A lot of what I have been reading in library blogs lately is matching up with many of the things that our library has been doing and our CEO has been considering.

First off has come the move towards rearranging non-fiction collections into genres, rather than strict dewey order. Quite a few public libraries in Melbourne have done this – and we have just opened a new branch with this feature applied to the adult non-fiction collection. Several of our other branches have done it already and the others will follow in due course. So far, the anecdotal evidence has been positive with regards to the move, hopefully the statistical evidence will follow. It has been hard to judge thus far, as we have also made other changes which have impacted loans.

One of those changes was loan periods. We previously had 4 week loan periods for all books, magazines and audio books and 1 week loans for all AV. This was with the option of one renewal – if the item was not overdue or reserved. About this time last year, we extended the AV loan period to 2 weeks, and reduced the magazines loan period to that same 2 week period. A grace period of several months was set on magazines to help our borrowers to adjust and now a year later, I can say that anecdotally, it has been well received and utilised by our borrowers. Our renewal period has not changed.

An interesting viewpoint on Dewey and spine labels can be found in “Spine labels and De-Dewefication” by Michael Casey at Library Crunch. He asks why we need Dewey at all on non-fiction books – why not just subject labels, especially in libraries which have already genrified their non-fiction collections. Going with that is why we even need author labels on fiction, as the author’s names are in a large font on the side of the books already. His entry is thought provoking, as are the many comments which accompany it, both agreeing and disagreeing with his stance.

Where do I stand? I was not keen at first on the whole idea of genrification, but I can see that for the borrower, in most instances it will be easier for them to find what they are looking for. It might be harder for staff (at least until the become familiar with how and where the genres are located in their branch), but once past that, they will go to the shelves in the same way they go for a book in normal dewey order. It will be confusing for borrowers seeking a particular book, but I don’t think it will be any more that straight Dewey is now and at least when they get to the area, they will be able to find other titles which may interest them.

Our library service has genrified by gathering Dewey numbers together in one area and linking them with a colour coded genre label. We have nine genre categories, with the rest of the stock still filed in straight Dewey order. On the point of having just those genre labels, there is something to be said for using just author order within that area. However, we are not at the point where that can happen. Firstly, we have several libraries with large collections – one with approximately 40,000 non-fiction items. I believe this is too large a collection to organise this way. We also have smaller branches, but our users tend to be mobile and we don’t want to further confuse them by having different systems at different libraries. Secondly, not all our non-fiction is in genres. Do we again add to the confusion by having these books in dewey order, but others in genres. We are trying to make it easier for our borrowers and by having the genres we are taking the steps we can take to do this. As for the fiction – if all fiction books had easy to read author names, then I think we could justify dropping the author spine labels. But considering how long it takes me to find books in bookstores without labels, I think I am happier to stick with the system we have.

What is good in all this, is that all these things are being considered and reconsidered in light of our changing society and users. We can’t just stick to the way things are because that’s the way we have always done it. It is good to take the time and realistically consider and then maybe take a risk and try something different.

Some new interesting reads

I have been catching up on my reading. The problem with blogs is that they put you onto so many new articles, blogs and websites with great stuff, which you may not come across otherwise. Oh yes, and that’s the great thing about them too.

Anyway, back on topic, 2 recent articles that I was put onto by fellow library bloggers that I found interesting and thought that others might too!

Reference Publishing” by Sharon R Cole on the Website of BookTech Magazine, explores the current trends and future plans of Reference title publishing. (5 printed pages)

Scan this book!” by Kevin Kelly of Wired Magazine was published in the NY Times. It was a very interesting and thought provoking look at the present situation with Google and the publishers over book scanning and where he thinks the book is going and how it will be accessed in future. I didn’t agree with everything Kevin wrote, but it was very interesting and controversial for me in places. A good bit of provocation every now and then is good for me!

Enjoy!

Copyright law reform in Australia

News coming out of the Attorney General’s office is outlining proposed amendments to Australian copyright law. This is not unusual in itself, what is unusual is that the proposed changes are actually sensible and beneficial to both individuals and libraries!

You can read about the details at in the Attorney General’s media release “Major Copyright Reforms strike balance” and ALIA’s “Libraries to benefit from upcoming copyright reform“.

In quick summary, here are some of the proposed changes:

  • Format shifting will be allowable by law, if shifted from a legally owned copy – eg. you can rip a copy of a CD you own so that you can download it onto your MP3
  • Individuals will legally be allowed to record TV and radio programs for later playback (once only of course) – something that millions of Australians have been doing illegally for years of course
  • Educational, libraries and cultural institutions will be allowed to use copyright material for non-commercial purposes (yay for our promotional activities etc)
  • Provides new exceptions for people with disabilities

Other exceptions and new security measures, as well as reforms to bring Australia in line with US copyright law as regards to the USA-Australia Free Trade Agreement are also expected in the draft Bill.

If all goes through as expected, this means exciting possibilities for libraries and a move towards more logical copyright law in Australia. A logical law is quite amazing in itself – one that benefits both the public and libraries is awe-inspiring.

Having said that however, we are all waiting on the content of the draft bill before celebrating. If it provides the content as promised by the Attorney General and makes it through the Houses of Parliament, we will indeed be celebrating.

Thanks to Blisspix for bringing this to my attention.

Internet access in public libraries and filtering

ALIA has released results of a 2005 survey of internet access in Australian public libraries.

The survey covered over 700 public libraries, comprising 41% of such facilites across Australia. Key points for me were:
– over 77,000 people accessed the internet in surveyed public libraries each week in 2005
– 80% monitored and supervised internet in a variety of ways.
There was much more so you should check it out.

With ongoing media stories, both here and overseas, about children accessing inappropriate material on public library PCs, I found the following results from the survey to be of interest:
– 50% of libraries reported no complaints abut internet content
– of the 50% who had, the vast majority had received five or less complaints in thepast 12 months
– 30% used filtering software
– those who used filtering software had a corresponding increase in complaints, mainly about filters blocking legitimate sites
– 71% of survey libraries required parental consent for children to use the internet – some also required a parent to be present with the child using the internet

My particular interest in this is that I am opposed to filtering of public library internet PCs and these results seem to bear out that it causes more problems than it solves.

I am not saying that inappropriate content on the internet is not a concern. It is a concern for any parent and our library has had its share of complaints and media focus on this issue. On the otherhand, we also get our share of complaints about our print materials. Our library computers do not have filtering – a stance supported by our library board and by ALIA in its Statement on Online Content Regulation.

We do however, have policies in place to regulate internet use by children. To use a library internet PC requires a library membership card. One condition of junior membership that parents sign, is that the parent takes responsibility for materials accessed by their child, whether print, electronic etc.

Our Internet conditions of use are available at all our PCs, in our brochures and online. One condition of Internet use is that children of primary school age be accompanied by an adult when using the Internet.

It is also a condition of use that inappropriate material is not accessed on library PCs. A breach of this condition in particular, whether caught by staff or reported by a library user, is dealt with quickly and definitively. The offender is immediately removed from the PC and barred for a month. If after this ban they are again caught, they incur another ban, this time for up to 6 months. Ban details are recorded on their membership record. Further offences can result in a lifetime ban. At this time, I know of no-one having been banned more than twice, so in our case it seems to be working.

I should note that we do not have any PCs in children’s areas, they are all in a common area, available to all library users. I don’t know if I would encourage either this physical separation of machines into limited access areas, or whether in that instance I would consider filtering appropriate.

I say this for a few reasons. As is well known, filtering blocks good sites as well as bad. This may not be such an issue in children’s areas, but it is still a concern. What is relevant, is that filtering still lets inappropriate content through, as evidenced by the increased complaints in the Internet survey above. It also gives the parents an opt out clause. There is the mistaken impression out there, that filtering solves the issue of inappropriate content, therefore parents do not need concern themselves with their children’s activities on filtered computers. Not only that, but children are quite adept at bypassing web filters as evidenced recently in the CNET article “Kids outsmart Web filters” (not that it was any surprise).

I am a parent of 2 young children, with my daughter in her 2nd year of school just starting to use the internet. It is my responsiblity to ensure she learns what is inappropriate for her and knows how to react when she comes across it. Its not a perfect system and I will make mistakes and she will ignore my directives at times, but we will get there.

I know the Internet can be a dangerous place, which is why the PC that she and her younger brother have at home is in an open area near our kitchen, with the screen and its content easily visible from a distance. It’s my responsibility to monitor their access and therefore the PC is set up so I can.

My responsibility as a librarian is to provide safe and open access to all, whilst being concerned with the affect on others. The way I and others in my service help children both in the library and using the internet from home to avoid such content is to provide access to reputable websites relevant to their information and recreation needs. We do this and will be doing more as we move to a new improved LMS in the next 12 months.

Its a tough situation. I am anti-filtering and will remain so until filters can ban the inappropriate content, whilst still allowing much needed medical and other appropriate information through. It must also be able to stymie the majority of children’s attempts to bypass it. Only at that time can I see myself reconsidering this standpoint and I can’t see that happening for quite some time.

Cost of outsourcing

Although not directly to do with libraries, this story is something that hits close to home personally.

We’re stressing Indian callers is a story in Queensland’s Sunday Mail newspaper, which outlines the stress and burnout that workers in Indian call centres are experiencing from their encounters with Australian callees.

Having been the recipient of many of these calls, I can relate to the frustrations listed. Add the Indian accent to a poor line (which is what calls come in on), hungry stomach (they call at dinner time) and no desire for the product and I more often than not, hang up with just a quick, curt, “no thanks”. I agree that there is no need for abuse, as these callers are just doing their jobs, but on the other hand, the frustration is happening on both ends of the line.

I don’t know what the solution is. Maybe the government or the telcos sets up a facility for us to be able block these sorts of calls, whether from Australia or overseas. When someone comes up with a reasonable solution, I’ll be interested.

In the meantime, whilst I am sympathetic to the stress levels of these call centre employees, I have to protect my stomach, my family and my hearing, so I will continue to say “no thanks” and hang up as politely as I am able, considering its dinner time in a house with young children.

Love to hear your thoughts on this.

Australian blogs

We here in Australia are still pretty new to blogs, especially in libraries and especially compared to the US, but we are catching up. However, there is a new tool available to Australian bloggers and to those seeking Australian blogs, which will hopefully help our local blogs to become more a part of mainstream internet access and use here in Australia.

AustralianBlogs.com.au is a free community resource to bookmark your favourite Australian blogs. Similar to del.icio.us (but less invasive – we don’t need you to register or login), you can add your bookmarks or just browse to see what’s popular.” (direct quote from the site).

Not only that, it allows Australian bloggers to list their blog on the site, with the bloggers choice of tags and description, to hopefully encourage expanded readership.

Unfortunately there are only 2 other Australian librarian blogs there at present (thanks CW and Genevieve for putting me onto it), so if you are an Australian library blogger, get your details in there!

If you want to add your blog or you are looking for an Australian blog, regardless of topic, its worth the look. You never know what treasures you may uncover.

Surveying now!

Funny isn’t it. When I wrote that last post, it hadn’t really filtered through my head, that my library service was being involved in a similar public survey so soon.

This one is a little different than previous ones however. The Library Census 2006 is being run by I & J Management Services, on behalf of Viclink, LibraryBoard of Victoria and the State Library of Victoria and is intended to get a snapshot of online users of Victorian public libraries. How is that unusual you may ask?

Well in two ways really. One is that my library service was involved in the trialling of the survey a few weeks ago, to make sure that the questions were understandable etc. That involved marshalling users within our main library one afternoon, to take the time out to hear an introduction, then actually fill in the survey online. A couple of our outgoing, enthusiastic staff were most innovative in achieving good numbers for this purpose. Due to their efforts, we were able to get a good cross section of people who were all very helpful and cooperative.

The second is that at the same time that the online survey is running (ie. now), we are also running a shortened version of the census survey in our branches. The aim is to enable us to get an idea of the demographics of those people who are using our facilities physically, as a basis for comparison to those who are using us virtually. It will be fascinating to see the results on a number of levels, so I will keep you posted.

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Public Library Surveys

As a public library we are involved in regular surveys. Our service has to submit an annual survey to our State government, we run our own in-house surveys of our users and we also participate in phone surveys of users/non-users alongside several other regional library services. All this gives us a pretty good idea of who are users are and what they think of us.

However, you can never have enough information about your users or find out enough about potential users. So it has been very interesting, reading the results of 2 surveys out of the US.

The first is from the American Library Association, whose @ your library survey 1000 adults, nationwide on their atittudes towards public libraries. It surveyed what people thought of libraries and for those who used them, what they used them for. Interesting reading.

The second was a very comprehensive survey from OCLC, entitled Perceptions of Libraries and Information Resources. This survey examined information seeking habits and preferences of users of all sorts of libraries and included respondents from around the world, of which 535 were Australian. Its value was not only in the survey results, more so because of the Australian component, but also in the comments from survey respondents, which were interspersed as appropriate throughout the report.

Quite often the value of these reports is in hearing from the public – especially from those who don’t use the library. It helps give you an idea of why, which can then lead to ways in which your service can either offer new services to this market or better market existing ones, which would meet their needs.

Pew Internet is also a great resource for studies on usersof the Internet from a variety of perspectives – all which helps to build up a picture of our existing and potential users online.

We are an information organisation in an information society. We should be using this information to improve our services and continue to best serve our users and potential users well into the future.

Is email driving you crazy?

Having asked the question in the title, you probably would correctly guess the answer for me is yes. But not for just one reason, as you might suppose, but a few.

Firstly and definitely mostly, is spam. I only work part-time, so my inbox can get quite full between work days, even more ridiculously so when I am away for a few days or on annual leave. What I am finding so frustrating these days, is that I spend at least the first 10 minutes of even a normal day, deleting junk email. My workplace has a spam filter, so this 10 minutes is only on the email that gets past that filter. When I tell you I would easily have 70+ emails each work day, with anything up to 80% of it being spam, you can understand my frustration.

I use email to communicate with workmates, colleagues, to subscribe to discussion lists etc, so I still need it for those uses, at least for now, so for the moment I have to put up with the frustration and the time-wasting clean ups.

My other problem with email is its time delay. Its so easy to ignore email, but some things are not urgent enough for a phone call or requires input from several people. I wouldn’t even know if I could make a conference call on our phone system, let alone know how to do it if we could.

So if not email, what? My workmates and I have been making inroads into IM. We now have 10 middle and senior managers connected through Messenger and its been great. As I work part-time, I use it to get in touch with workmates from home on occasion, to ask a quick question or verify a detail. I am online anyway, so I don’t need to make a phone call. We can also draft more than one person into the conversation, hence covering the conference call type situation.

The main disadvantage is that we can only catch people when they are at their PC, which in the case of middle managers, is not often. However, they wouldn’t be there to respond quickly to an email either, so its not much different. No ads, no spam, and its fun. It has the added bonus of getting us all familiar with the technologies that our young community uses everyday. (we see it on our public Internet PCs).

Are there any other options? Yes, there are and we are already talking about using some of these other tools to communicate with each other, with the rest of the staff and with our users.
Tools such as wikis, rss feeds, blogs and podcasting are getting higher on the priority list, so I am optimistically expecting to see some action in the wake of our new LMS later this year. One of the biggest pluses for all these means is the cost of the software – $0 – its all free! You will need some equipment for podcasting, but otherwise you just need some enthusiasm and some time.

Want to know more: try these articles:

Email won’t disappear, it still has its uses, especially in the short term, but some communication will be better served using other tools. If email is driving you crazy too, maybe you should explore your options and tap into some very nifty and free communication media.