Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Library Makes Bold PR Move

What a great PR move for the Library.

Library fines could dent credit report
By M. Scott Carter
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — That overdue library fine could cost you more than just your library card.

It could hurt your credit rating, too.

This week, administrators with the Pioneer Library System announced that customers "with $50 or more in long overdue library charges" could soon "feel the bite in their credit rating if accounts are not cleared."

Under the new policy, library spokesman Gary Kramer said Pioneer would turn over its "long overdue" material accounts to the Unique National Collections, a collection agency specializing in library debts.

"We're trying to be good stewards of our materials," Kramer said. "We've been writing off lost materials for years. This is a way to stop that."

Kramer said the system has $1,496,397 in outstanding fines since 1992, and that 3.6 percent (more than 7,000 customers) of Pioneer's 186,000-plus cardholders owe more than $50 in library fines.

And those 7,000 customers could be turned over to the library's collection agency, he said.

"We hope they'll (cardholders with fines) will react by bringing our stuff back," he said. "We go though a lengthy process to try and get materials returned. But I think there will be people, certainly, who get stung by this."

Kramer said the system tries to keep fines from "getting out of control" by suspending library privileges for those who owe $10 or more.

However, he said many customers face fines of several hundred dollars due to unreturned materials or charges on multiple cards in the same family.

Kramer defined "long overdue" as materials the library has been trying to recover, or an account the system has tried to recover for more than 60 days.

Library CEO Anne Masters said library officials have an obligation to protect the system's materials.

"We take our role as responsible stewards of the public trust very seriously. Part of that stewardship is the obligation to protect, maintain and account for the materials in our care. Our goal is keeping our library materials in circulation and available to customers," Masters said in a media statement. "Our public libraries are supported by the taxpayers of Cleveland, McClain and Pottawatomie counties."

She said the collection agency would begin contacting delinquent card-holders Oct. 15 in a "trial implementation of the service."

"We are not taking this action to be punitive and we did not make the decision easily," Masters said. "We encourage anyone who has an outstanding library debt to talk with their librarian. We are anxious to work with our customers to resolve their accounts. We want to keep them as customers."

Masters said the trial run was to see if the results "warranted continuing with the service."

She said the collection agency charges $10 for every account processed.

And while some libraries have come under intense scrutiny for using collection agencies, Masters said she hoped the policy wasn't controversial here.

"I hope people would think it's good that were making every reasonable effort to be responsible stewards of the taxpayers' money," she said.

She said the system has declared an amnesty weekend on October 4-5.

Overdue materials which are returned to the library on Saturday, Oct. 4, or Sunday, Oct. 5, will be checked in and all charges that have accrued for those materials will be waived.

However, the program applies only to items returned to the library in good condition and does not cover existing fines for items previously returned, copy charges or other library debts.

After Oct. 5, she said, all outstanding charges on customer records will stand. "We hope many of them take advantage of Library Amnesty Weekend," she said.

Masters said some customers feel they own the material since it was paid for with tax dollars. "But that ownership is shared with more than 300,000 central Oklahoma residents who also have a right to the same materials."

M. Scott

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