“Loans Review” or “Why can’t everything just be simple?”

Around this time last year, we went live with our shiny new Library Management System. If you were following me on Twitter at the time you might remember that I was Slightly Stressed for the first few months, as we tried to get Aleph to behave the way we wanted it to, whilst also trying to train staff in how to use it and, you know, deliver a library service!* We had to make a lot of decisions on the spur of the moment (“okay, so shall we fine a penny a minute on desk loans? Half hour grace period? Right, let’s do that.”) and when some things we wanted to do didn’t work the way we expected them to, we just had to leave them as they were and agree to see what happened.** It was decided very early on that we would have a review after one year to see how everything was working, so a couple of weeks ago we held a Loans Review at the main campus. Two days of workshops, discussions and presentations when as many staff as possible got together to talk about the big questions; why do we do things the way we do? Do they work? Are they fair? Should we change things? What would be the effect of changing them? We had presentations from the Student Union about what students expected, staff from UEL and Kings came to talk about their circulation systems and we had lots of small workshops on key aspects of the system (i.e. reservations, loan periods, blocks) and the needs of particular groups of students (postgraduates, part time students, placement students) We got through a lot of flip charts and a lot of coffee!

It was a really enjoyable couple of days and it was nice to spend some time getting right back to the basics of circulation. What really surprised me was how many of us came to the same conclusions throughout the day of what we’d like to do in an ideal world. I had rather expected there to be lots of disagreement! Some of the main points most staff were agreed on were:

  • Ideally we’d prefer not to charge fines on overdue items that aren’t reserved.

A lot of us felt that with such high fees and so many students working alongside studying, it really didn’t seem fair anymore to fine people who has simply forgotten to renew an item which wasn’t actually needed by someone else.

  • Which means that we might as well have automated renewals.

There’s very little point in having a due date if there’s no penalty for going over that due date, so why bother? Why not just let students keep items as long as they need them if no one else wants them? But would this lead to more lost and invoiced items? Will we know unless we try?

  • We’d like to ramp up fines on overdue reserved books.

Currently the fine is the same whether a book is reserved or not, and fines are capped at £10 per item. There is a certain type of student that therefore sees this as an opportunity to keep the item as long as they like and still pay less when they return it than it would have cost to buy it. Ramping up fines and removing the cap would hopefully resolve this.

  • We wanted to explore other ways of encouraging students to return reserved or invoiced items.

We discussed the possibility of blocking their e-resources access or even blocking them from accessing the Library itself! The latter is probably too heavy handed (although it would be so much fun) but we were quite interested in the former.

I think the main thing that came out of the Review was how bloody complicated circulation is; everything impacts on something else, whether within the system itself or with our procedures in general. Everyone came away from the day with a healthy respect for the systems team! But the other realisation that I think we all had was that a lot of the rules we have are ones that we’ve had for a long time, but we put them in place in the beginning and there’s actually nothing stopping us from changing them if we want to! It’s our circulation system after all and it’s not carved in stone. It made me wonder what I would do if I were starting a library from scratch today, with today’s students, courses and methods of study and today’s system of Higher Ed. What rules would I come up with?

So what would you do if you were starting your library from scratch; if there anything you’d change or add? Would you charge fines? Would you keep the same loan periods? Would you get rid of rules all together or would you chain all the books to the shelves and not let anyone borrow anything? Would you run screaming in the opposite direction? Let me know in the comments!

*Yes, this doesn’t seem ideal and we’re well aware of that, but with the delays that seem to be inevitable in a massive procurement exercise like this, this was the reality we ended up with. We made it work and I didn’t go completely grey; I call that a Win.

*Holds. Bloody Holds. I spent the entire month of September trying to get to grips with Holds and then trying to explain the fundamental differences between Holds in Aleph and Holds in our previous system to everyone else. No one enjoyed September.

2 thoughts on ““Loans Review” or “Why can’t everything just be simple?”

  1. Have been meaning to hold a review of circulation for some time as a lot of our rules have been there for donkey’s years. Agree with automatic renewals and additional fines on reserved books, and after reading this will try and hold a meeting to discuss some of these issues.

  2. I haven’t been at my current job long enough to have too many opinions, although our current policies seem acceptable to (most of) the users.
    I wish my meetings would end like this: “Everyone came away from the day with a healthy respect for the systems team!”
    (of course I’m a systems librarian…)

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