Thursday, June 10, 2004

Under the Boardwalk, Down by the Seefile

My little FINAL NOTICE note that we sent out with the overdue notices this time has certainly caused a stir with some patrons. These are the same patrons, mind you, that we've sent multiple overdue notices to over the past two years. Suddenly, they can't pay attention fast enough when their ability to check books out from all 33 libraries in our 15 county network is being threatened. I can't say that overdue books are pouring in, but we're definitely getting more of them back than with most overdue mail-outs.

"Final notice? I never got a first notice!" one lady bellowed at us over the phone. The hell you didn't, I wanted to say. Our stats, after all, indicated that her particular overdue had been printed by our computers over 13 times. That's thirteen months to you and me. My guess is, at least three of those months got mailed to her if not more. And she can't exactly claim that we don't have her correct mailing address if this one managed to find her. Nevermind the fact that I PERSONALLY MAILED ONE TO HER LAST MONTH. In the end, she still has to bring her obscenely overdue books back or pay for them, first notice or not. At least we got her attention.

We had another lady come in to sign her children up for our Summer Reading program who coincidentally turned out to be a Seefile from 2001, a year we haven't even bothered to send out overdues for this time around. Turns out she used to live here and moved away, but is now back in the area full time. She even pointed out to me that she probably had fines when signing her kids up. Sure enough, she owed $16.95 for a long lost book.

"Can I pay you something on that?" she asked, offering a $5 bill.

"Uh, sure," I said. We don't normally take installment payments on lost books, but I figured if she couldn't afford to pay all $17 dollars at once, that money was probably earmarked for something more important, like food. I marked both her Seefile and her patron record that she now only owed $11.95 and signed her kids up for Summer Reading and library cards. Granted, they'll all have to get new library cards next week when the new computer system goes online, but they were cool with that.

Sometimes things genuinely do fall through the cracks on our end. One patron called me yesterday to complain that she's now received the same overdue notice on the same Clive Barker book on tape three times and each time she's called us to tell us that she mistakenly dropped it off at a branch in another county and that they still have it. I seem to even recall having taken such a call from her in the past myself. This time I put a note in her patron record to this effect, wrote it down on the note pad to call our "liberrians'" attention to it and assured her this would be looked into. That's the trouble with being high and mighty and sending out FINAL NOTICES; any mistakes on your part get magnified to the same size as the threat you're making. Oh, it's all fine and good when the overdue is for a well-known deadbeat patron who has no excuse, but when the little old lady from down the street comes in to return a book that's been lodged behind her sofa for eight months, you feel a little bad about sending her threatening notes.

Still, quite a number of people are bringing their overdue books back and letting us get our records straight. One in particular was the screenplay to Stephen King's Storm of the Century which has been out since 2003. We're so familiar with it that whenever the overdues are printed we don't even bother looking on the shelf to see if it's there because we've already checked that shelf at least three times before and know full well it ain't there. Yesterday, the lady who checked it out finally returned it and had the decency to at least look sheepish about it.

I'd decided to stop reporting about Parka's activities, since they seemed to have settled into a pretty stable, though highly irritating pattern. However, he came in three times yesterday and not once did he loudly robot drone "MAY I PLEASE SIGN UP TO USE A COMPUTER?" from the door. Nor did he ask what our hours tomorrow are. I wonder if Miss E had to yell at him again.

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An employee of a small town "liberry" chronicles his quest to remain sane while dealing with patrons who could star in a short-lived David Lynch television series.