This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, July 4, 1990

July 4, 1990 - Overdues

Many years ago, the public library in the small Illinois town of Towanda (motto: "I love to wanda on the plain") had a simple but effective way of getting its overdue books back.

Every Monday, it posted in its big storefront window the names of all the people who hadn't brought their books back on time. It also listed which books were late.

This Window of Shame sat right next to the only other business in Towanda, the Post Office. In small towns, people go to the Post Office pretty regularly. And generally speaking, they are more than happy to stop and look at a public list of their neighbors' sins.

Peer pressure can be a powerful thing in a small town. If Joey forgot to bring back a Tom Swift book, he'd hear about it not only from the librarian, but from at least twelve of his neighbors. Every day. And at least two of them would want to know why he was reading that trash anyway.

One thing about Towanda, though, anything even remotely like a "dirty book" always came back early. The local pastor used to stop by that window too. Nobody wanted to wind up the object lesson of a sermon.

The next step up from the Towanda approach is to telephone people when a book is late. It works fine so long as a library doesn't check out all that many books, or there aren't that many people.

For a long time now, the Douglas County Public Library System has used the phone method. But these days you might say we're overdue for a change.

Last year, our library checked out over 300,000 items -- closing in on a third of a million. We had almost 70,000 individual library visits.

The telephone call approach just doesn't cut it anymore.

Starting this week, we're going to let our computer do some of the dirty work for us. Every day, relentlessly, it will churn out reminders that some of our books didn't make it back when they were supposed to.
It will work like this. One week after the book was due, we'll crank out a gentle reminder. You'll get it in the mail a few days later. If you fail to respond by the next week, we'll generate another notice. Now the book is two weeks overdue, and you're looking at a little bit of a fine. If you still don't bring it back, when the book is three weeks overdue our computer will print a bill. Then you've got a choice: pay us the full value of the book, or shuffle in, red-faced, return the book, and pay the fine. Believe me, the fine is a fraction of the cost of most library materials.

The point, if it isn't obvious by now, is to recover the materials -- not to humiliate anybody. You see, the books that don't come back are usually the ones most in demand. It's cheaper and usually faster for us to mail a couple of notices than to replace the item.

So if you should happen to get one of our new overdue notices, remember -- it could be worse.

You could live in Towanda.

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