Response to 'Curing the overdue materials epidemic'

By Aaron Albertson

I am writing in response to the opinion article “Curing the overdue materials epidemic” published in the Dec. 4, issue of The Mac Weekly. I thank the Mac Weekly staff for taking interest in this issue. However, the article contained inaccuracy, misleading statements, and over-simplification of a complicated issue.

Some libraries temporarily suspended lending material to Macalester because of items kept past their due dates. Others threatened to do the same and our biggest ILL supplier sent an e-mail asking me to do something about our massive number of overdue items.

First, I would like to clear up the inaccuracy. The article said, “notifications that books are overdue contain no mention of specific deadlines or consequences for a continued failure to return the materials.”

This is false. Every notice for an overdue ILL item includes the item’s due date, which is the date an item should be returned to the library regardless of consequences. And, in regard to consequences, notices for items more than 3 weeks overdue that were sent on 11/24/2009 said, “If this item has not been returned by Monday, 11/30/2009, your ILL privileges will be suspended.” These notices also told who to contact to re-activate a suspended ILL account. And, the subject lines of these e-mails were intentionally changed to ‘ILL privileges may soon be suspended – overdue ILL item’.

We also include information about penalties for late returns in every single one of these e-mail notices, as well as on a slip of paper put in each book, and in the e-mail sent when a book first arrives. The due date for each ILL item more than 3 weeks overdue was provided at least four times before ILL privileges were suspended.

The article also mentioned fines and I think it is worth clarifying to the Mac community how these are handled.

Currently, the library bills for overdue ILL items only when we receive a bill from a lending library. The amounts vary depending on what the lending library chooses to bill. Charging fines for ILL on our own is something the library is considering, but no decision has been made. If fines were to be implemented, we would, as with the suspending of ILL accounts, give people notice some days in advance.

Now, how do we work to solve this problem? Last week the library threatened to suspend ILL privileges for people who had excessively overdue material. Many overdue items were returned as a result, but not all of them.

Adding consequences alone is not the full solution to this problem, nor was the previous lack of them entirely the cause. Here are a few thoughts: 1) The library should make some information regarding ILL policies more readily available. Some people have contacted me in the past two weeks saying they did not know they could ask for permission to renew an ILL item. I will add this information to the notices, and make it available in other places as well. For the record, before the due date renewals can be requested online through ILLiad. If the due date has passed then renewals can be requested by library staff by contacting me (651.696.6530 or [email protected]), Leslie Mollner (651.696.6502 or [email protected]), or the general ILL address of [email protected] Also, the ILL policies on the library web site should be displayed in a manner more convenient than the current faq. This is something I will work on. 2) Talk to library staff. If you have concerns about being able to have resources available for your paper, then we want to work with you to figure out the best way to handle this. 3) Some people have asked if there could be a reminder e-mail sent a day before an item became due. Until recently I thought our system did not allow for this, but now I know it does. This has now been implemented.

Interlibrary Loan is a system based on courtesy. It works because other libraries trust Macalester to handle what they lend to us in a respectful manner, just as Macalester trusts other libraries to do the same with the many books we lend. Borrowing a book from another library is just like borrowing something from a friend or neighbor. We are temporarily being given something that does not belong to us and the generosity should be appreciated and respected. Many people at Macalester realize this and I thank them.

In the past few years, the Macalester community’s dependence on ILL has grown dramatically. In 2006 we borrowed 6,304 items. In 2009, so far, we have obtained 10,634. It is a vital service for all of us. We must do what we can to keep this service strong. I welcome any thoughts or suggestions.

Aaron Albertson can be reached at [email protected]