That sinking feeling of realizing your library books are overdue will soon be a thing of the past for some users of Mid-Columbia Libraries.
The district library recently launched an auto-renewal service for its collection. That means that unless someone has specifically requested a book, DVD or magazine you’ve checked out, it will be automatically renewed in your name with no late fees.
Library officials spent years working on the service, recruiting other libraries around the country to encourage the software developer responsible for their cataloging system to make it a feature.
It’s not known what the effect could be on the district’s estimated $120,000 annual revenue collected from fees and fines. Some materials, specifically recent releases and books from popular authors, will continue to be regularly requested and those lenders won’t benefit much from auto renewal.
It wasn’t always an easy sell given it would mean libraries would willingly sacrifice revenue used for operations and adding materials, but the service is a common sense step to take, said Michael Huff, the library district’s collections director.
“We’re not in the business of collecting fees,” he said.
Patrons of most library services, including the Richland Public Library, always have had the ability to twice renew an item they checked out as long as it wasn’t requested by someone else.
But they have to do it manually by going online or visiting a branch. That’s not always easy for patrons to make time for or remember their due books. At the Mid-Columbia Libraries, failing to renew an item means a fee of 25 cents a day after the third day it’s late, accruing up to $5 per item.
“It’s not everybody who comes into the library every couple days or once a week,” Huff said.
With auto renewal, the library district will send out emails to patrons a few days before items are due. If no one has requested them, they’ll be told they’ve already been renewed. If someone has asked for them, the patron will be told to return them by the due date. An item can be renewed twice before it must be returned. The Richland Public Library allows unlimited renewals but patrons will still have to go online or contact a branch to check items back out.
Automatically renewing someone’s checked out materials sounds like a simple thing to do, Huff said. However, no such function was available in the library district’s catalog system, created by Polaris/Innovative Interfaces, and they weren’t about to add a special feature requested by just one library, Huff said.
Library staff formed partnerships with the Columbus Metropolitan Library of Ohio, the Bergen County Cooperative Library System of New Jersey and the Rochester Hills Public Library to approach Polaris to develop an update that would allow automatic renewals. Mid-Columbia Libraries also provided $12,000 toward the effort.
Each library is starting the service at different times. Rochester Hills released it in late November in time for the holiday season, leading some to be pleasantly surprised in recent months when they thought they’d have late fines but found the service is still going and wasn’t just a seasonal offering, said circulation manager Ginger Olson.
She added that her library was interested in the program largely to boost circulation numbers, because renewals count as new checkouts. Regardless, the library is happy with the new service because patrons are clearly happy about it.
“They’re always surprised and delighted,” she said.
But automatically renewing checkout materials lead to about a 30 percent drop in revenue from late fees, Olson said. Rochester Hills is an economically stable area so the library’s budget was able to absorb the decline, she said.
There were concerns about what auto renewal would do to Mid-Columbia Library’s stock of materials available for checkout. If everyone is holding onto materials for weeks longer than they initially would, it leaves empty spaces on the shelves.
But those empty shelves won’t be bare for long, Huff said. The library has more books in its collection than it could previously keep out for lending.
So more of the collection could make it out of storage just in time for the summer reading season.
“We love the timing of this,” Huff said.