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, December 1, 1999

December 1, 1999 - Libraries Online and Food for Fines

At a recent Library Board retreat (nothing fancy -- just a Saturday meeting in Castle Rock) we talked about two perennial concerns: containing costs, and growing new services.

One of the costs involves keeping in touch with our patrons. Our circulation -- the number of items we check out -- continues to grow by double digits. So we have to let people know when their holds have come in. We have to let them know when their items are overdue.

At present, we only have two ways to do that: mail patrons a notice, or call them on the phone. Multiply this by the million and a half items we check out in a year, and you see the problem.

We had hoped that a new service we introduced about a year ago would help. That's the ability to conduct all kinds of library business online. If you give us an e-mail address, unique to you (not shared by the rest of your family) we can send all of your notices that way. The advantage to us: no printing, folding, or paying for postage; no repeated attempts to catch you at home or find your answering machine.

The advantage to you: timeliness. When the book is checked in, you get notified within 24 hours. (Please note: this ONLY works if you select "mail" as the way to be notified of a hold. Our software has some peculiar twists. Think "mail = e-mail" when placing a hold.) Overdues are automatically sent to the e-mail address as well.

It could be that this hasn't been as well-used as I'd hoped because of my reluctance to put a whole family on a single e-mail address. I have two main concerns.

The first is that items that don't get returned are eventually passed over to a collection agency -- part of our stewardship of public property. E-mail accounts are simply far more transient than addresses. I'd hate to attach library records to somebody's credit history just because they changed an e-mail provider and neglected to tell us. Right now e-mail service is sufficiently new that it's hard for us to catch things like that. This is an acceptable risk for a single individual -- we'd probably catch it when the collection service sent out THEIR first letter, which goes to a physical, not a virtual address. But when you toss spouses and children into the mix, it just makes me uncomfortable.

The second issue is confidentiality. It may be that spouses open each other's mail, or parents open all mail addressed to their children at home. But at least the library sent the letter some place where the child could get it. E-mail probably doesn't work like that. The parent again has access to the correspondence between library and child -- but does the child?

I know that most of the time, there's nothing so awful that the parent couldn't know about it. But I also think libraries shouldn't be too eager to erode anybody's online privacy -- that's happening fast enough. On the other hand, perhaps I'm being too cautious, and will have to reconsider.

At any rate, As time goes on, more and more people WILL have e-mail, and the prospect of that does open up an avenue for new services. For instance, suppose you got a monthly e-mail library newsletter that offered the library's program schedule, or highlighted new reference materials, available to you from home -- all just a click away?

Just as many online companies offer a "My Netscape" or "My Yahoo," customized to show just the things you're interested in, the library might offer a "My Library," configured to keep you automatically updated about new book clubs, author appearances, or new bestsellers in the realm of science fiction.

At the dawn of the new millennium, there will be many such new services.

No comments:

Post a Comment