Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Reserve services

“This is found in the nature of things, that one never tries to avoid one difficulty without running into another, but prudence consists in being able to know the nature of the difficulties, and taking the least harmful as good.”
-Machiavelli, The Prince

“..But if you want an education, go to the library.”
-Frank Zappa

Role and philosophy of reserve services
Reserve rooms and reserve collections are usually found in academic libraries and sometimes in school libraries, and are often the busiest service points in the library. The philosophy of the reserve room is to enhance the teaching process by enabling teachers and faculty to temporarily supplement library collections in support of their collections. Reserve services do this by enabling teachers to place
materials, or copies of materials, on restricted loan for a limited time period. Electronic reserve systems permit the scanning of document images into a database and their retrieval by students. These systems are becoming popular as a more effective and labor-saving means of distributing reserve readings than manual systems

Reserve service guarantees that assigned material will be available for students to use when it is needed. The service allosws teachers to place on reserve or make available electronically, within limits, multiple copies of copyrighted materials. This assures their availability in sufficient quantity when they are needed. Reserve rooms are also used to protect high-risk items, that is, material that is likely to be mutilated or stolen if placed on the open shelves.

Reserve, or assigned, reading is a fairly recent addition to the academic library and appeared towards the end of the last century. The professional literature contains little about reserve readings before 1900. In 1878 Harvard College, under the heading “Special Reserves,” reported the following:

"It is the custom of the professors at Harvard to hand in at the library lists of books to which they intend to refer their classes during the term. These books are reserved from circulation, are covered, and a colored label is pasted on the backs, each professor having a distinctive color. The books are then arranged in an alcove, to which the students have free access .... Other libraries might adopt this plan for books in which there chanced to be some special interest, so that many people desired to consult them.”
"Special Reserves (at Harvard)," Library Journal 3 (1878): 271.

Melvil Dewey was a pioneer of many methods used in both college and university libraries. In 1887 he reported that books recommended by professors were placed behind the loan desk at Columbia: “Each professor is invited to send in lists of books which he wishes withdrawn for a time from circulation and kept in the reserve room, so that each student may be sure of the opportunity of consulting them.” Dewey goes on to describe “a long slip, (7.5 x 25 cm) five times the size” of the ordinary book card, which was used for charging “restricted reference books.” (Melvil Dewey, "Restricted Reference Books," Library Notes 2 (1887) : 216. This long card originated by Dewey is still in use today, and so is the charging method described by him more than 100 years ago.

A reserve room operates like a mini-library within the larger institution. Staff accept reserve requests from teachers and faculty, remove books from the stacks and make photocopies of or scan requested items, bind loose materials so they will withstand heavy use, purchase necessary supplies, and process and house the material in a restricted area. Staff also make sure copyright guidelines are followed, prepare bibliographic aids to facilitate access to the collection, check items in and out, administer fines and billing for overdue and lost items, remove material from reserve or prevent electronic access when it is no longer needed, and troubleshoot the equipment. In large libraries the reserve collection may contain thousands of items for hundred of courses. The items are usually divided between library-owned and teachers’ personal materials. The composition of the collection changes each term, and the maintenance of this service requests a significant library commitment of staff, time, and space.

It is important to note in this discussion that many staff members, students, and teachers question the value of reserve services. Low use of some reserve items, along with the high cost of administration, has been documented since the 1930s in numerous articles. Examples include a study at the State University of New York, which measured potential use on the basis of each student in a class reading every assigned item once. The potential use rate of SUNY was measured at 15.1 percent, meaning that almost 85 percent of assigned readings were never used. Another study at the University of Virginia found that about half of the students enrolled in courses with 10 or more items on reserve did not use any reserve materials. (John M. Cohn, "The Underutilization of Reserve Materials: A Report on One Library's Experience," LACUNY Journal 5 (n.d.): 21-25, and James Shelf, "Reserve Readings and Student Grades: Analysis of a Case Study," Library and Information Science Reports 9 (1887): 29-40.)

Customers and staff are sometimes critical about various aspects of reserve service. Students complain that material is not put on reserve fast enough, that service is poor, and waiting times too long. Teachers also protest about the time it takes to process assigned material and about the amount of work they must do before material is placed on reserve. Library staff complain about the amount of time it takes to process materials and that faculty do not give them sufficient time to process reserve items before assigning them, do not appreciate or adhere to copyright restrictions, place excessive quantities of material on reserve that students never look at, and are slow to remove items when they are no longer assigned. (Norman D. Stevens, "A Hard Look at Reserve," The Journal of Academic Librarianship 3 (May 1978): 86-87; Gerald Jahoda, et al., "Academic Library Procedures for Providing Students with Required Reading Materials," College & Research Libraries 31 (March 1970): 103-6; Lois Carrier, "Are University Reserve Collections Justified?" APLA Bulletin 30 (September 14966): 85-88.

In addition to these complaints, there are pedagogic arguments against reserve services. There is no evidence that using assigned reserve materials has no significant influence on academic performance. A study at the University of Virginia measured the correlation between over 8,000 students’ use of reserve materials and the grades they received in their courses. The study revealed only a weak connection between reserve use and grades. The study also indicated depending on reserve readings may even obstruct the educational process. Relying on reserve services to provide library materials discourages students from using the library and learning necessary library use skills. It also prevents the serendipitous discovery of information that occurs through normal library use. (Self, "Reserve Readings and Student Grades," 29-40. See also Benjamin Franklin Smith, "The Book Reserve System," Improving College and University Teaching 12 (Spring 1964): 84, and J. N. Berry, "Unreserved Book," Library Journal 90 (May 15, 1965): 2228. These arguments notwithstanding, reserve operations are present and very popular in many libraries. The following section illustrates the operations of reserve book rooms.

Arrangements and storage
Generally, reserve materials are removed from the circulating collection by library staff or teachers or, in the case of materials owned by the instructors, are delivered to the library and placed in a special room or area within the library where access is controlled. Although reserve readings were originally housed in open stacks, most libraries now have a closed stack system for reserves or a combination of open and closed stacks. The argument for closed stacks was stated convincingly by Dewey (in his inimitable simplified spelling system): “But a new vice developed itself. Sum of the students in their zeal for learning wanted it all; and, as these books were on open shelves where each helpt himself, we soon found that the books most wanted often disappeared.” Dewey, "Restricted Reference Books," 216.

Activity around the reserve area is heavy, and the location of the service should be considered carefully. The room must be easy to find and traffic to and from the area should not interfere with other library operations. Locating the reserve room outside of the library building has been tried and found wanting due to the inconvenience for users and staff. The only acceptable rationale for doing so is temporary alleviation of space problems. Because most reserve material may not be taken out of the library, it is a good idea to have photocopy machines located nearby.

The primary criterion for arranging material in the reserve area is to enable staff to locate and easily retrieve the items requested by students. Staff generally house unclassified materials and professors’ personal copies on bookshelves arranged by course number or the instructor’s name. Sometimes unclassified materials are assigned an accession number and arranged numerically. Classified materials may be grouped with other material for a course or filed separately by call number. Housing for photocopiers and other loose materials is problematic. Some libraries punch holes in photocopied materials and place them in binders, some staple the pages together and place them in cardboard boxes or manila folders, and others arrange them in file cabinets. Media, too, can be housed with the rest of the material for a course or remain in special media housing. Scanned images are indexed in the database so files for particular professors or courses can be easily retrieved, generally by professor’s name, title, author and course number.

Making reserve readings accessible requires several different steps. The first step is to persuade instructors to submit their reserve lists in a timely manner. The greatest amount of processing work, which is time consuming, comes at the beginning of the semester or academic term. To help to guarantee that staff will have enough time to prepare materials for circulation or scan them into a database, nearly all libraries request that faculty put material on reserve at least two weeks before classes begin. Nevertheless, many teachers do not submit materials until just before, or even after, they have assigned them.

Once materials are processed, access depends on students knowing what items are on reserve. Students and instructors must know which materials are removed from public access to the reserve room, and students need to know what materials are placed on reserve by their instructors.

Libraries with automated reserve systems have an answer to some of these problems. A message can be attached to any record in the online catalog indicating that the item is located in the reserve room. Many integrated online systems have reserve modules. In 1998, a report by the Council on Library Resources indicated that six of the top twelve library automation systems included a reserve module, with more in the planning stage. (Leigh Watson Healy, Library Systems: Current Development and Future Directions (Washington, DC: Council on Library and Information Resources, 1998), 18-19.) Reserve modules permit staff to list all items, including nonlibrary and scanned materials, kept on reserve. Reserve holdings may be found by searching for the teacher’s or faculty member’s name, the course name or number, the author or the title.

Nonautomated libraries must depend for access on the quality of the printed or written records developed by the reserve staff. The variable nature of reserve collections makes keeping these records up to date a challenge. Staff should mark the records for library materials placed on reserve in the public catalog to inform users of the changes, but marking every card is often impossible. Some libraries mark only the main entry card, sometimes by covering it with a plastic sleeve marked “reserve” that can be easily removed when the books are no longer on reserve (see figure). A less satisfactory but more common solution is to create printed lists of classified items placed on reserve. These lists may be either typed or handwritten sheets or card files, arranged by author, title, or call number, representing each item placed on reserve.

Comprehensive lists of items on reserve are located at the reserve desk itself for public consultation. These lists may take the form of a database accessible on a public terminal, card files, or typed or handwritten lists in three-ring binders with entries arranged by instructor’s name or course number (see image). There are two essential characteristics of these lists in whatever form they take: They must be user friendly so both customers and staff may easily identify wanted items and they must be flexible enough to permit easy updating as items are added and withdrawn throughout the term.

The policy of restricting access to reserve materials begs the question of who is and is not permitted to borrow the material. As we have seen, the reserve room’s reason for being is to guarantee access to materials for students in particular classes; this is the rationale for closed stacks and limited circulation periods. Access to a professor’s personal copies or to scanned documents is generally denied to all but those students authorized by the instructor to use the material. For personal copies this is to protect the materials. For scanned images, it is to attempt to stay within the “fair use” provisions of copyright law. However, access to library-owned materials on reserve is given to other authorized library users, although they must abide by the same use restrictions specified by the instructor. This practice is consistent with the philosophy of equitable access to information.

Despite the restrictions described above, access to traditional materials is obtained by readers coming to the reserve desk and requesting the items. Digital reserve collections, accessible via the Web, are available anywhere a student has a computer, network connection, and password. This makes digital reserve items more accessible than traditional collections and extremely important for students taking classes through distance education. These students are not readily able to come to the library, and a database of scanned images allows them to get the readings they need for their coursework. Digital reserve has great potential for facilitating distance education and should become more common as distance education offerings increase.

It is the reserve supervisor’s responsibility to monitor the demand for library materials placed on reserve. Because of their reference value or popularity, access to some books should not be restricted by placing them on reserve. If the value of placing a particular book or library item on reserve is overshadowed by the inconvenience it causes other library customers, an alternative to restricting access to the information should be found.

Teacher and faculty relations
Diplomacy with regard to teacher and faculty relations is important in all aspects of public services, but especially so in the reserve room. Teachers and faculty probably take a greater personal interest in the reserve room than in any other service, except perhaps interlibrary loan. This is because they believe reserve services play an important role in supporting their day-to-day classroom instruction. Teachers and faculty will often have the majority of their contact (and sometimes their only contact) with library personnel at the reserve desk. Consequently, they will form their opinion of the importance and value of the library from the quality of their interactions and the service they receive.

The nature of many of these encounters between reserve staff and instructors, however, is sensitive. The encounters involve requests to change policy or procedures to meet the desires of a particular instructor. The exceptions teachers typically request include processing items ahead of others, placing more items on reserve than normally allowed, substituting different loan periods than those offered, leaving items on reserve for extended periods (sometimes called “permanent reserves”), and overlooking copyright restrictions on photocopying (see “Ethical and legal considerations below). Communicating with faculty on these and other points require finesse and reserve staff must have good interpersonal skills to negotiate effectively.

Staff must be both sympathetic to a teacher’s particular needs and able to make exceptions to policy when appropriate. There may be nothing wrong with placing materials on reserve after the normal deadline or accepting more material than policy allows, if doing so does not create problems for others. Some requests, however, would compromise the efficient operations of the service or perhaps be illegal under copyright law. Staff must also be able to refuse courteously and explain the reason for the denial and, if possible, offer alternative solutions. Administrators responsible for reserve services should carefully select personnel who possess good interpersonal skills and train them to negotiate effectively with faculty and other users.

Circulation of reserve items
Whether a library uses a manual or automated system, the process of circulating reserve items is more complex than that performed at the circulation desk. There are several characteristics of reserve circulation that makes this so: the processing required to prepare items for circulation, varying loan periods and fine schedules, the number of nonlibrary and nonbook materials circulated, and the ever-changing composition of the collection.

Manual circulation
When instructors deliver items to the reserve area, staff must first possess them for reserve circulation. Each item, whether book, photocopy, teacher’s personal copy, or other type of material, must be identified with the following information: instructor’s name, course number, circulation period, and any use limitations applicable, such as “Reserve Book Room use only” or “Library use only”.

The most common way to identify materials is to type the information for each item on two book cards, including a special long book card like that described by Dewey earlier. Staff either insert the cards into the book pocket of library books or paper-clip them to the item. Often, libraries use color-coded cards to indicate different circulation periods.
Borrowers write their names and/or identification numbers on the long card, which serves as the circulation record, while the other card remains with the item and identifies it when the item returns. An additional preparation step required for photocopies is to affix a copyright notice on them if one does not already appear (see Ethical and Legal Considerations below).

Once each item is processed, it is housed and arranged as described above, and is then ready for circulation. One distinguishing feature of the reserve collection is the number of different loan periods. Most reserve materials circulate for very brief periods, for examples, a half hour, one hour, or two hours. This is enough time to allow students to read a short document or photocopy an item.

As each item circulates, staff record the time it is due. A time-clock is sometimes used to stamp the time due on the book cards, or staff use a date stamp to record the date and write the time due on the cards. For items with longer circulation periods, for example, one, two, or seven days, date-stamping the two cards is sufficient for circulation control. Staff file the check-out cards together according to the circulation period (one-hour cards together, one-day cards together, and so on) for easy retrieval when items return. It is usual to require students to return reserve materials directly to the reserve desk to avoid any delay in their being available to other students.

When items return to the reserve desk, staff pull the check-out cards, match the cards with the items, and check for delinquency. Borrowers’ names and the times due are blocked or cancelled in some way for timely returns and they are returned to the shelves for further use. Overdue items are marked with the return time and processed for fines and billing.

With hourly circulation periods and high use, the potential for many overdue items is great. Reserve departments dislike spending the time and effort required to process overdue fines (especially if, as in many cases, the library does not get to keep the money collected). Most reserve services try to discourage overdues by publicizing heavy fine schedules, for example $1.00 per hour, $10.00 per day, and so on. Nevertheless, borrowers return many hourly check-outs late. As long as other users are not inconvenienced, reference staff often allow generous grace periods to avoid a massive billing operation. Exceptions to these grace periods occur when the overdues are flagrant or, especially, when other students are denied access to the information. Libraries also levy fines for damaged or lost materials.

Automated circulation
Effective automated reserve book systems are not as prevalent as automated circulation systems. This is because it is difficult to program the system to handle the large number of different loan periods and item types. Nevertheless, effective reserve modules do exist and they greatly simplify reserve operations. Scanned items in online reserve systems are retrieved directly by students without intervention by library staff. The following pertains to the automated circulation of physical items.

As items are added to the reserve collection, they are again identified by course, instructor, and circulation period. Staff enter this information into the system and link it to the item’s existing bar code, or a new dumb bar code, which they attach to the item itself, or to the book card created for the item. As items circulate, staff use a light pen or optical scanner to read or wand the item bar code and the borrower’s ID into the system. The time due is stamped on the date-due slip and the transaction is complete.

Discharging the item is equally simple. The system is placed in the discharge mode and staff wand in each item’s barc code to remove the link between the patron and item, and the material is ready for reshelving. The system automatically records overdue information, calculates fines, and generates overdues and fine notices.

On most library organization charts the reserve room appears under the authority of the circulation section. Most commonly, the circulation supervisor or a paraprofessional reporting to the head of circulation supervises the service. The individual in charge of reserve most be experienced, as many problems arise requiring nature judgement, tact, and well-developed interpersonal skills.
The supervisor of reserve services does more than merely oversee an inventory control operation. Service at the reserve desk is at times the most frenetic and mechanical in the library. More than in any other public service, reserve staff are subjected to periods of stress resulting from waves of heavy user demand. The first wave is like a tsunami, rising at the beginning of each academic term when instructors flood the area with their reserve lists. These requests and the items to be processed often pile up faster than staff can handle, and there is pressure to prepare the material for circulation as soon as possible before the readings are assigned. Once the term begins, several waves of students break against the reserve desk each day as class periods end and borrowers arrive to get their assigned readings. These waves increase to tsunami proportions again at examination times, especially towards the end of the term. The administrator selects, trains, and schedules staff to accommodate the fluctuations to activity inherent in reserve services.

The supervisor is also responsible for removing unused permenant reserve materials from the collection and removing materials or the link to the virtual equivalent, which may be in violation of copyright. Because unused items unnecessarily increase the size of the collection, they may delay service. In addition, they are not available for regular library use. The supervisor may also be responsible for maintaining satisfactory study conditions in the reserve reading area, because students make it difficult to study.

Personnel selection and training
The reserve supervisor selects, trains, and supervises the work of the reserve staff, most of whom are students. The supervisor must make sure the staff have work to do during slack periods, but that other duties do not interfere with service delivery.

In selecting personnel for the reserve back room, administrators consider the unique characteristics of the service. As a first criterion, reserve staff must have good interpersonal skills. This includes the ability to always interact courteously and politely with customers. Situations arise requiring patient explanations of procedures and policies to frustrated teachers and students. Other occasions require tactful classification of the restrictions placed on the availability of materials.

As in all circulation work, the ability to perform detailed work accurately is required in reserve. Also important is the ability to work under pressure. As described above, the volume of business at the reserve desk can seem almost overwhelming at times. Employees must be able to stand the pace until the demand eventually slackens.

Punctuality is a necessity. Students must arrive on time to replace others leaving for class. Service will suffer if there are not enough personnel to staff the desk when help is needed. The ability to work nights and weekends is also necessary because the reserve book room is normally open for service whenever the library is open.

To schedule staff effectively, the administrator must be familiar with the use patterns of reserve materials. The busiest periods at the reserve desk occur several times each day when classes are dismissed and students arrive en masse to check out the readings just assigned. Another busy time is at the beginning and end of each term, when additional help is sometimes needed to handle the processing surge. The supervisor, sometimes in coordination with the circulation head, most schedule adequate staffing at these times to prevent queuing problems. Inexperienced staff are usually scheduled with experienced personnel who can assist in their training. The reserve schedule must also make provision for nights and weekends, when full-time staff may not be available to assist with busy periods. Staffing schedules must provide enough backup to guarantee service during the inevitable illnesses, vacations, and other absences. In some libraries the reserve room serves as a study hall when the library is closed, and staffing is scheduled to meet these hours.

Keeping and using statistics
Planning for good service requires the extrapolation of information from accurate statistical records of reserve book room activity. Statistics can track circulation activity by time of day and season to allow an accurate picture of use patterns and facilitate effective scheduling. Statistics can also measure how many times the different kinds of material circulate so the supervisor can project space and supply needs. Finally, a record of how often each individual item is used should be maintained. A heavily used personal item may be a candidate for purchase by the library, while library-owned books may be considered for duplicate purchase. Library materials receiving little or no use are candidates for weeding from reserve.

In an automated reserve system, the computer tabulates these statistics automatically. With a manual system, staff maintain hourly records of circulation activity. Along with the individual item data, the reserve supervisor tabulates this information to provide the appropriate planning information.

Ethical and legal considerations
The principle guaranteeing the confidentiality of circulation records is the same in reserve as in circulation. Even though the reading is required and assigned by a teacher, no one has the right to know what anyone reads without that person’s permission. Faculty wishing to find out which student have done the required reading for their class may find it difficult to understand this principle. To reveal the circulation records, however, violates the library’s responsibility to guard the intellectual freedom of the students. The question may arise whether teachers have the right to see the circulation records for personally owned items placed on reserve: the answer is that they do not. While the materials are in the custody of the library, the principle of confidentiality applies to all materials issued and controlled by the library, even if only temporarily held.

The library, may, however, furnish to the instructor information that does not violate borrower confidentiality. Statistics may, for example, be provide on the number of times an item circulated for a particular course. Information can also be furnished on the number of individual students who checked out reserve material. Any information that does not violate borrower confidentiality may be provided as a service to teachers.

The most important, and vexing, legal consideration in reserve operations is adherence to copyright law regarding photocopy requests. Instructors sometimes ask the library to make copies of various materials and place them on reserve, or they will bring in already-made copies for placement on reserve.

The 1976 Copyright Revision Act, in Title 17 of the United States Code, permits nonprofit institutions to make copies in limited numbers of copyrighted materials for educational and research use. This is known as the principle of fair use. Numerous articles have discussed the ramification of the Copyright Act and how to implement it, with no clear consensus emerging. Librarians have wrestled over such questions as: What is fair use for reserve? Can photocopied materials be used repeatedly? Is photocopied material on reserve the library’s property or does it belong to the professor? What can the library do if permission to photocopy is denied?

To assist in wrestling with these questions, the American Library Association issued, in 1982, a “Model Policy Concerning College and University Photocopying for Classroom Research and Library Use”. Section III.C addresses library reserve uses specifically:

In general, librarians may photocopy materials for reserve room use... If the
request calls for only one copy to be placed on reserve, the library may
photocopy an entire article, or an entire chapter from a book, or an entire
poem. Requests for multiple copies on reserve should meet the
following guidelines:

  1. The amount of material should be reasonable in relation to the total amount of material assigned for one term of a course taking into the account the nature of the course, its subject matter and level....;
  2. The number of copies should be reasonable in light of the number of students enrolled, the difficulty and timing of assignments, and the number of other courses which may assign the same material...;
  3. The material should contain a notice of copyright...;
  4. The effect of photocopying the material should not be detrimental to the market for the work. (In general, the library should own at one copy of the work.)...

For example, a professor may place on reserve as a supplement to the course textbook a reasonable number of copies of articles from academic journals or chapters from trade books. A reasonable number of copies will be in most instances be less than six, but factors such as length or difficulty of the assignment, the number of enrolled students and the length of time allowed for completion of the assignment may permit more in unusual circumstances.

In addition, a faculty member may also request that multiple copies of photocopied, copyrighted material be placed on the reserve shelf if there is insufficient time to obtain permission from the copyright owner. For example, a professor may place on reserve several photocopies of an entire article from a recent issue of Time magazine or the New York Times in lieu of distributing a copy to each member of the class.” (Americian Library Association, "Model Policy Concerning College and University Photocopying for Classroom Research and Library Use, College & Research Libraries News 43 (April 1982): 127-31. Permission to reprint granted by American Library Association.)

In addition, the “Model Policy” states that the “reserve use of photocopied material in multiple courses or successive years will normally require advance permission from the owner of the copyright”. (Ibid, 130.)

The ALA’s policy is vague in a number of areas. If there is doubt, the safest course for a library is to request permission from the copyright holder or request that the faculty member do so before photocopying material for reserve. Publishers are usually generally cooperative in granting photocopying permission for reserve usage, and a study at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale demonstrated that compliance with the law was not detrimental to service (although staff spent a great deal of time writing for permission). (R. Shelton, "Adaptation: A One Year Survey of Reserve Photocopying," Journal of Academic Librarianship 6 (May 1980): 74-76.)

The legal and ethical obligation to protect copyright holders also extends to photocopies made by a faculty member and presented to the library for placement on reserve. If the number of copies or amount of material exceeds the guidelines above, staff should ask if permission has been secured from the copyright holder to make the copies. If not, staff should refuse to place the material on reserve until permission has been obtained.

Electronic reserves are seem by some as the leading edge in creating digital collections in libraries. Digitized images also take the lead in stirring already murky waters of fair use. An electronic reserve system involves scanning images of material into a database to improve student access. Questions about the applicability of fair use standards to digitized images generally revolve around the number of potential viewers of an image; the transmission of the images beyond the educational setting of the library or the classroom; and the potential for printing, downloading, or copying the images to undermine restricted access. While copyright law offers no clear and direct answers about the scope of fair use for electronic reserves, a number of different interpretations of the law may be found in the literature.

The Fair Use Guidelines for Electronic Reserve Systems, drafted by a working group of the Conference on Fair Use (CONFU) in 1996, offers some helpful guidelines that some libraries have employed. Essentially, the Guidelines recommend that libraries follow the same fair use guidelines that pertain to paper copies of copyrighted material. Images should be limited to single articles or parts of a work, and they should be copies legally obtained materials. Included with the images should be a copyright notice, and permission should be obtained for materials used repeatedly by the same instructor for the same class. Finally, access should be limited to students enrolled in the class and to library staff as ended, and access should be terminated at the end of the term. (PBS Adult Learning Satiellite Service, "Am I a Crook? Copyright Issues on the Internet," Participant Packet (April 2, 1998)) Other approaches to the copyright question have been more conservative, including seeking permission to digitize any copyrighted work. In 1999, commercial interests were pushing legislation that would restrict fair use of copyrighted works, and libraries should seek legal counsel before adopting an electronic reserve policy. (See Brett Butler, "Electronic Course Reserves and Digital Libraries: Progenitor and Prognosis," Journal of Academic Librarianship 22, no. 2 (March 1996): 124-128, for a description of a system with digital intellectual property management as an integral part, and Scott Seaman, "Copyright and Fair Use in a Electronic Reserves System," Journal of Interlibrary Loan, Document Delivery & Information Supply 7 no. 2, (1996): 19-28, for a conservative interpretation of fair use and reserve access to digital works.

Security and preservation
Because of their high use, reserve materials suffer a great deal of wear and tear. It is important for staff to handle reserve items carefully to help prolong their life and value as instructional aids. When withdrawn from reserve, books especially should have all extra inserts, paper clips, and other added materials removed. (If paper clips have rusted in place, they should be pried away from the paper, which will prevent tearing.)

Training staff in the proper techniques of handling the various materials placed on reserve will help prevent damage. Media should be stored in appropriate housing. Binders or folders help protect photocopied or other loose materials from the damage that accompanies high use. If there is time, staff may educate borrowers about ways to avoid damage while photocopying, or posters or other materials may be used to caution them. Staff should also identify materials needing preventive minor repair. Repairs should be done promptly so materials will last, both during and after their stint in reserve.

Administrators train staff to pay special attention to security and preservation of teacher-owned materials in the reserve collection. Personal materials such as books, videos, and other items may be easily stolen, so care must be taken to verify and record borrower identification information before the materials circulate. As the practice of digitizing reserve materials become more common, the concerns of reserve staff for the preservation and security of physical items will necessarily decrease.

Reserve services are viewed by many faculty and teachers as a valuable adjunct to their teaching. It provides them with a way to supplement the library collection in direct support of their classes. It also helps guarantee students access to materials that are either required reading or pertinent to their classes. Electronic reserves greatly increase access to reserve readings once a library adopts a policy that conforms to the current interpretation of copyright law, and an increase in electronic reserves is a trend expected to continue.

However, reserve services is costly to maintain and often underutilized. These arguments suggest that libraries facing personnel shortages or space limitations should consider carefully the value of continuing full reserve service before cutting more essential services and resources.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Circulation's role in security

The circulation staff of a library is often responsible for much of the security of the library building and its collection. This is so for a number of reasons:
1. The circulation area is often located near entrance and exit doors, and circulation staff are likely to be the first to become aware of security problems.
2. Circulation staff are often more familiar with the building than other library personnel.
3. Circulation departments are staffed all the hours the library is open.

Responsibility for library security generally falls into two categories: (1) notifying the proper authorities about crimes or transgressions, or facility problems; and (2) assuming responsibility for the security of the building and its contents, especially at opening and closing times.

Circulation staff usually have the responsibility of notifying appropriate authorities in the event of thefts or other problems, including inappropriate behaviour by customers. The staff may also be required to contact medical personnel in the event of emergencies. In cases such as these, employees at school or academic libraries will probably inform campus authorities, while public library workers contact city or county authorities. All libraries should have written procedures for dealing with security and medical emergencies and all staff should be thoroughly familiar with them.

Responsibility for building security includes opening the library in the morning and preparing it for use (turning on lights, the catalog terminals, the copy machines, and the microcomputer workstations; opening doors; unlocking the cash box). Security also involves making sure the building is empty of people at closing time, turning the equipment off, and locking all doors. This is an extremely important operation and evening personnel must be well versed in closing procedures to ensure that uninvited guests do not remain and that the building is secure against unauthorized entry. Both opening and closing procedures should be in writing and personnel performing these functions should be thoroughly trained in the routines.

To perform these security chores and to enable staff to provide building access to authorized workers when necessary, the circulation department is often assigned a full set of building keys. These keys are carefully controlled by the circulation staff and are stored in a secure accessible only to authorized personnel.

Theft detection systems

Electronic theft detection systems have been available since the mid-1960s. Today they are in general use in all types of libraries. The purpose of these systems is to reduce theft and other types of unauthorized removal of library materials, such as the customer or library director who innocently forgets to check out material. These systems, which operate on the principles of magnetism, electromagnetism, or radio frequency, are generally effective, and they are the single best deterrent to library material loss. To determine whether a library has a theft problem, one can use inventorying and sampling techniques. A number of studies have shown that book loss is a common problem. These studies have also shown that the presence of the equipment alone will reduce theft by 50 percent, and a fully protected library may see a 70 to 90 percent reduction in theft. (Thomas A. Witt, "The Use of Electronic Book Theft Detection Systems in Libraries," Journal of Interlibrary Loan, Document Delivery & Information Supply 6, no. 4 (1996): 49.) Theft detection systems are available from several commercial vendors.

The systems operate by placing a sensitized element, called a trigger or target, in each protected library item. When staff charge materials out they desensitize the target with a special piece of equipment or pass the item around the detection system and the borrower exits through the detection system normally. When a customer does not properly charge out material, a sensing unit is stalled near the exit doors detects the sensitized target. An alarm is sounded (or light flashes) and, if there is a turnstile gate, it may lock automatically. The sensing unit can detect sensitized targets even in concealed material.

Libraries with a theft detection system will have a policy outlining the procedures to follow when the system is activated. Because the person detained is in a sensitive situation and because of possible legal consequences, circulation staff must be careful about accusing someone of theft and must strictly follow library policy and routine.

Several problems may result from the presence of a theft detection system. In large collections, there are often not enough human or financial resources to target all materials, so it must be done selectively. Generally, this means the more expensive, hard to replace, or most used titles. Even books that are targeted may not always activate the system, and targets may be removed from items. There are some materials that should not be placed in or very near the sensitizing unit. Computer disks may lose data if they are near a sensitizing or desentizing device when it is operating. To prevent these accidents, staff must be aware of the dangers inherent in the system used by the library. Some libraries report that mutilation of materials increases after the theft detection is installed. Mutilation is impossible to prevent completely, but staff can increase their vigilance if they are alert to the problem.

Libraries with theft detection systems must not fall into a false sense of security. The system is meant to stop the occasional honest user and the forgetful borrower. The person determined to steal or the professional thief can find a way to defeat most security precautions.

Evans, G. Edward; Amodeo, Anthony J.; and Carter, Thomas L. Introduction to Library Public Services. 6th ed. Greenwood Village, Colorado : Libraries Unlimited, 1999.

Circulation of nonbook materials

Libraries with automated circulation systems tend to bar code nonbook materials and use the same procedures as they use for books to circulate for these items. Although the manual circulation control systems are capable of handling all kinds of library materials, many libraries choose to handle certain nonbook materials separately. The cost of controlling these special materials is often lower using a separate system because the frequency of special materials circulating is often too low to justify anything but the simplest and least costly system available. Borrower participation is usually required in circulating nonbook materials. Also, the loan periods for these materials may be different from those for books. Libraries develop their own special forms for charging out nonbook material. To charge out such materials, the borrower fills out a special charge card for whatever material is involved.

Borrower registration
Most libraries require customers to register and to obtain a special identification card to charge materials out to the library. Applying for this card is often the customer’s first contact with a library. This is especially true in a public library. In academic and special libraries a general identification card used for many purposes may also serve for a library card. School libraries often do not require students to register. When a library does require the borrower to register, the procedure should be simple and trouble free.

There are several important reasons for requiring borrowers to register:
  1. to identify persons who have the right to borrow materials, or in some cases the right to use a library;
  2. to give a borrower some special form of identification necessary to charge out material or use a library; and
  3. to obtain information on the ages, occupations, interests, and geographic location of a library’s clientele that would help plan for services and acquisition of materials
This last reason applies especially for public libraries. It is important for a library to know whom it is serving and, equally important, whom it is not serving.

Library personnel at the circulation desk must be familiar with registration procedures and be prepared to answer questions about the library’s services and resources. The importance of first impressions at the registration, or circulation, desk cannot be overstated. Staff who cannot answer simple directional or informational questions or whom seemed annoyed with customers’ requests create a negative impression of the library that is hard to overcome.
Borrower registration is usually handled by staff and, in academic libraries, by student workers, with overall supervision by a paraprofessional. The levels of personnel used for registration in a particular library will vary depending on the library’s size, the kind of library, and library policy. The rest of this section is an overview of user registration procedures. Because daily work details vary greatly among libraries we do not discuss them here but leave them to when they are best learned, that is, while working in a library.

Registration in public libraries
Public libraries have a prescribed registration procedure. Most public libraries include local residents and taxpayers among their primary clienteles. Many public libraries also grant borrowing privileges to non-resident users. Sometimes these non-resident circulation privileges are granted on a temporary basis, generally for a small fee or deposit. The privileges are good for a limited period of time, commonly between one and six months.

The prospective borrower is usually required to show proof of identity and eligibility (often a picture ID and proof of residency) and to fill out a library card application. Applications are often available in languages other than English, especially in libraries serving multicultural populations. Children and young adults usually must have the sponsorship of an adult to obtain a card and often have their application co-signed by their parent or guardian, especially if the child is to have full access to the library’s collection, including the Internet terminals. The information requested may include the borrower’s name, address, telephone number, and employer. Many libraries have joined library consortia or networks or have entered into cooperative agreements with other libraries (see figure). Some libraries extend borrowing privileges to cardholders from any public library in that state (called universal borrowing). Others have contractual agreements with other jurisdictions to serve their users without charge. Some libraries have begun to charge fees to non-residents, but the amounts are relatively low.

Libraries using automated circulation systems are able to register borrowers by entering information directly into the system computer. Staff then issue a borrower’s card with a unique bar code or OCR label used to identify the patron. These cards may be used immediately after they are issued.

A public library branch may keep its own file of registered borrowers or there may be a centralized file for an entire system. In either case, an important task is to keep these files current, eliminating inactive names and obsolete addresses. Most library cards expire at regular intervals so borrowers are required to register again. Staff update the files when they remove the records of those borrowers who do not register again. Some public libraries use cards with no expiration date and purge their patron database at regular intervals. Some libraries have eliminated file updating by using lists of registered voters instead of registration, and the latest list of voters is also the list of registered library borrowers.

Registration in academic libraries
The primary responsibility of the academic library is to provide service to the institution’s students, faculty, and staff. Faculty and staff receive identification cards when hired and have library privileges because they work for the institution. Students usually need one of three forms of identification to charge materials out of the library:

1. an institutional identification card issued or validated when the student registers for the academic term;
2. a receipt for fees paid for the academic term;
3. an identification card issued by the library.

As a backup, the library will often have a list or database of students issued by the school registrar’s office. The list or database is also helpful if a student forgets to bring or does not have a identification card.

Academic libraries often make provisions for circulation services to certain classes of noninstitutional borrowers. Alumni frequently have borrowing privileges. Publicly supported institutions usually allow members of the public to purchase a library card for a nominal fee while admitting them to the library free of charge. Even private institutions may make borrowing privileges available for visiting scholars and sell library cards to members of the local community in the interest of good customer relations. Unaffiliated borrowers are usually required to fill out an application form with their name, address, telephone number, and social security number, and present valid identification, after which they are issued a temporary library card.

Registration in special libraries
Registration of borrowers for special libraries can take a variety of forms. An identification card indicating employment with a company or government agency may give a person library privileges. Registration as a general library user in a public or academic library may also include privileges to use a special library that is part of the institution. A special borrower’s card may be issued for a limited time to persons needing to use a special library. Special libraries often issue temporary cards only to scholars and specialists in a special field. There are thousands of special libraries and, of course, many variations in the manner of patron registration. Frequently, there is no special registration because the office staff is small and the library staff is familiar with everyone on sight.

Registration in school libraries
School libraries have the most homogeneous clientele of the libraries examined. Eligible borrowers are generally the students enrolled in the school, although there are schools and districts that serve parents, student from other schools, or members of the community at large. This is especially true in the cases of school and public library partnerships, where schools or school districts share resources with public libraries.

Because of the limited clientele, few school libraries issue library cards to users. Proof of eligibility is less problematic than in other types of libraries. It can easily be established by personal recognition, school identification cards, and class registers. For those libraries that grant privileges to nonstudents, forms of identification other than library cards are the norm. Where partnerships or alliances exist with public libraries, students often have library cards so they can use the public library resources.

Check-out and check-in
Libraries establish limits on the length of time a borrower may keep library materials. The limits are set so borrowers will return items within a reasonable time, making them available to other users. The length of the loan period depends on the size of the collection, amount of circulation, purpose of lending materials, the clientele served, and sometimes the nature of the material loaned. For most items, loan periods are typically from one to four weeks. Certain materials (such as periodicals, pamphlets, CDs, or videotapes) are usually lent for periods of one to seven days. In some libraries certain borrowers are permitted longer loan periods than others. Academic libraries, for example, usually permit faculty and graduate students, because of their more scholarly research needs, to check out materials for longer periods than undergraduates. These periods vary depending on the library.

Libraries with smaller collections or higher circulation rates tend to have shorter loan periods in order to make material available to as many customers as possible. Libraries with larger collections may allow longer loan periods. Library staff will take all of these factors into consideration when establishing loan policies.

Some libraries limit the number of items a borrower may check out at one time or the number of items that one may borrow on a particular topic. This is common in smaller libraries where one borrower could deplete an entire subject area. The larger the collection the less need there may be to limit borrowing.

The various ways to discharge (check in) borrowed materials were discussed previously. Regardless of the system used, the result of discharging is the same: the record of a loan is cancelled and the borrower’s responsibility ends.

As staff discharge material, they inspect it for wear or damage. This is the point at which injury is most easily spotted. If material is badly damaged, the borrower may be charged for a fee. Missing call number labels can be replaced. Torn pages or loose binding must be repaired before the material circulates again or the item may be damaged beyond repair. This is a serious problem because many items are out of print (that is, the publisher has no copies available for purchase) and cannot be replaced. When repairs are needed, a mending slip with appropriate information is inserted in the item and the material is taken to the bindery area for repairs. A circulation record is created to indicate the location of the item.

Search and hold procedures
Circulation systems are, essentially, inventory control systems. The goal of an inventory control system is to be able to locate any item in the system at any time. Patrons often ask circulation staff to find material that the library owns but which is not on the shelf. One of the measures of a good circulation control system is how well it allows staff to locate materials when they are shelved improperly, not filed in their proper location, or checked out. Procedures for locating requested materials and notifying the requester that materials are available are often called “search and hold” procedures.

To initiate the procedure, the customer fills out a search request form. (Staff use the same search procedure if the borrower claims to have returned an item that library records show as still on loan.) Sometimes, most often in public libraries, there is a small fee for holding an item. The customer or staff member writes the call number, author, and title on the search form, as well as the requester’s name and address so that the patron can be notified if the material is found. Staff begin the search by checking the circulation records and the shelves. Approximately half the items customers are unable to locate are actually in their proper location. If the material is not located, an extended and standard search procedure is followed. Staff look in all possible locations. These include book carts, sorting shelves, missing files, mending areas, and other locations where materials might be found. Because of the library’s emphasis on providing access to information, this is an important service, and libraries make every effort to locate missing items for their customers.

Borrowers often request that charged-out materials be held for them when they are found or returned. Another characteristic of a good circulation system is its ability to identify holds, also known as reserve requests, when material is returned. Patrons usually fill out a hold or reserve request form (see figure), although many online systems allow customers to place their own holds at the catalog terminals. Staff attach the hold or reservation card to the charge-out record so the reserved material can be identified in the discharging process. With an automated system, a staff member or the borrower enters the hold information in the system and the information automatically displays when the item is returned and discharged. When reserved material is identified, staff mail notification to the requester (or, in some cases, telephone the patron). The library holds the material for only a limited time, usually a few days. If the patron does not check out the item, staff notify the next person wanting the material or they return it to the shelves. Some libraries mail the material directly to the borrower who requested it instead of sending a notice and requiring the customer to come to the library.

Overdues, fines, and billing
Overdue materials are a problem because they are not available to other borrowers. Fines are levied and billing performed to encourage borrowers to return materials on time so they are available to others. Libraries handle overdues and fine procedures in a variety of ways.

In recent years there has been a trend to lower or eliminate fines in some libraries, while other libraries have raised fines to try to improve timely return of materials. Some libraries have tried alternate methods of collecting fines to make the process less onerous; for example, the Cleveland Public Library accepts Visa and MasterCard, and a number of libraries accept food donations for the needy in lieu of cash, especially around holidays. While there is a lack of confirming evidence in the literature, most libraries believe some form of a fines and billing system is an effective means for convincing borrowers to return books on time. Some libraries even use fines to raise revenue.

Libraries that levy fines should inform borrowers about fines and fine schedules before any materials are loaned. Some libraries print the fine schedule on the transaction card inserted in the book pocket, on the pocket itself, or in the library handbook. There may also be a sign posted at the circulation desk.

Few libraries have complete freedom to set the fine policy; instead, they must conform to the desires of their governing bodies. In a public library the librarian may make recommendations on a fine policy, but the library board has the legal authority to establish the policy. In a college or university the librarian makes recommendations to the president or the administrative body with authority over the library.

Fine rates vary for different types of loans; for example, fines for short-term loans are often higher than for long-term loans. Fine amounts may also vary according to type of item, for example, higher fines for videos or books on tape. There may be a different fine schedule for children or juvenile borrowers (usually lower than the rate used for adults). Some libraries do not charge children fines at all, believing it is more important to encourage reading as a positive experience.

Some libraries have a policy of rescinding fines for borrowers who are unable to pay. Many libraries have tried moratoriums to encourage the return of overdue material. If a borrower returns the overdue material within a specified period, staff cancel the fine. The rationale for such amnesty programs is that the purpose of fines is not to punish borrowers or to make money for the library; rather, fines are levied as an incentive to encourage the timely return of material. Some libraries allow borrowers to work off their fines by performing tasks around the library.

When staff or the online system identifies overdue material a notice is usually produced and mailed to the borrower. Some systems are programmed to place telephone call reminders in place of written notices. If the borrower does not respond to the first notice, second and third notices may be sent as deadlines expire. The number of notices mailed is a matter of library policy and postage budgets. Staff keep manual or online records of the notices sent and on the eventual resolution of the problem (see figure). A library usually bills a delinquent borrower for the amount of the fine, plus a standardized service charge to cover the cost of processing.

If the fine remains unpaid or the material unreturned, libraries generally suspend further circulation services to the borrower until the situation is resolved. Libraries using automated circulation systems can easily change a borrower’s status to block further checkouts until fines are paid or books returned.

Libraries may resort to the employment of collection agencies, which sometimes report delinquent patrons to companies who are sources of credit checks. In some extreme instances, libraries may take extreme action in small claims court. The decision to initiate legal proceedings generally rests with the chief librarian. Public libraries may work with the city or county legal department to act against borrowers who fail to respond to overdue notices. Libraries sometimes take such action against borrowers guilty of flagrant violations in hopes of deterring others from committing similar transgressions. Academic libraries work with the university registrar or business office to withhold transcripts or degrees from students with unpaid library fines. School library staff contact parents.

Collection of fines and fees
Collection of fines and fees is an important responsibility because it usually involves accountability in handling money. Often, libraries collect fines and fees at the loan desk when a borrower returns overdue or damaged material. This requires a cash register or cash box for making change, a ledger of some sort for recording transactions, and accurate accounting procedures. Fines must be computed carefully; a fine is a poor customer relations device in any case, and miscalculation of the fine will only aggravate the situation. Automated systems automatically calculate fines.

Circulation staff often encounter borrowers who contest their fines. The most common argument heard is that the items listed as overdue were, in fact, returned on time and library records are in error. If the material is, in fact, found in the collection, staff generally give the borrower the benefit of the doubt and excuse the fine. Flexibility in collecting fines will do much to preserve good public relations while obtaining the return of overdue materials.

In some libraries, usually academic, the fine money is not collected by the library. Instead, the library issues a bill stating the fine and the borrower pays the fee at the business office or other campus agency. Sometimes fines for overdues do not revert to the library at all but disappear into a general fund for use by the governing body of the institution.

A library also collects fees for damaged or lost books. Generally libraries charge the cost to replace or repair the material plus a fee, or service charge, to cover the expenses of processing the fee. The amount of the service charge varies from library to library. For example, a lost book that costs $29.95 to replace might be billed at $34.95, the cost of the book plus a replacement fee of $5.00. Some libraries permit borrowers to purchase a replacement copy in return for reducing or eliminating the fee.

Some libraries have special fees for rental collections. Some academic libraries have rental reserve collections and some public libraries have rental collections of popular materials. If multiple copies of particular works are needed but funds are limited, the library might purchase several copies for rental and thereby recover the cost of the material.

The librarian or support staff may not do the actual collecting of fines and fees but will probably supervise the operation and must be aware of library policy and be able to solve problems that may arise. One of these is negotiating fines and fees with borrowers. When bargaining, it is important for staff to remember the philosophy behind the charges. The staff should be willing, and able, to negotiate a reduction in fines for returned overdue materials if they perceive a legitimate reason to do so. Such a willingness to consider the special circumstances of individual borrowers does much to ease the negative situation. It enhances the library’s customer relations and achieves the basic aim of getting material back on the shelves.

Ethical and legal considerations
Consistent with the Library Bill of Rights and the principle of intellectual freedom (the right to read and think whatever one wishes), circulation staff are ethically bound not to reveal the reading habits of library users. Only the reader and the circulation staff, in the legitimate performance of their duties, have a right to know what information sources the customer has consulted or checked out, and circulation staff have an obligation to prevent others from obtaining this information.

Probably as long as libraries have existed, police, government officials, ministers, parents, spouses, and others have asked library staff about the reading habits of borrowers. Only during the past 50 years, however, has the library profession expressed a desire to keep circulation records confidential. In 1938, the American Library Association “Code of Ethics” specified the confidentiality of library records, the first formal acknowledgment of this issue in the United States. (American Library Association, Code of Ethics Committee, “Code of ethics for librarians ... adopted ... December, 1938,” ALA Bulletin 33 (February 1939):128-30). Since 1970, the profession’s stand on confidentially has become stronger. There is currently, for example, a movement to keep children’s records confidential, even from their parents.

The following discussion of this issue is necessarily brief (Much of the material in this section was taken from: B. S. Johnson, “A more cooperative clerk: the confidentiality of library records”, Law Library Journal 81 (Fall 1989): 769-802; and Bruce Kennedy, “Confidentiality and Library Records: a Survey of Problems, Policies, and Laws,” Law Library Journal 81 (Fall 1989): 737-68.) Nothing in the following paragraphs is intended to be construed as legal advice. From a strictly legal standpoint, government officials have legitimate reasons to view library records. Public safety is the strongest justification for disclosure of library records, such as in response to requests relating to investigations of specific crimes. Legitimate national security concerns may also justify government access to library records.

Citizen access to library records is much less defensible. Although the records of libraries, which are governmental agencies (publicly funded in some way), may be categorized as public records, access to these records serves no public function. Citizens have few legitimate uses for library records. Nevertheless, most states’ laws regarding open records are so broad that library records may be open to inspection by the general public.

Most requests for circulation records, however, infringe on the privacy of the library user. Privacy may be considered an intrinsic and a prophylactic right that secures and safeguards other rights. A person has the right “to be left alone,” according to Justice Brandeis, and the right to be free from the harassment, intimidation, and persecution that might result from free access to circulation records.

In 1970 the American Library Association adopted a policy on the “Confidentiality of Library Records,” the current version of which was published in 1988 (American Library Association, “Confidentiality of Library Records,” ALA Handbook of Organization 1988/1989 (Chicago: American Library Association, 1988,), 237). This policy attempts to constrain unlimited police access to library records by requiring an order from a judicial, legislative, or administrative body. The 1995 revised ALA Code of Ethics (available at
http://www.ala.org/ala/aboutala/offices/oif/statementspols/codeofethics/coehistory/codeofethics.pdf) reaffirms the librarian’s duty to protect each user’s right to privacy with respect to library records. Many librarians and library associations responded to these documents by adopting confidentiality policies of their own.

A summary of state laws and practices, as of the mid 1990s, may be found in Shirley Wiegand’s book, Library Records (Shirley A. Wiegand, Library records: a retention and confidentiality guide (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1994)). These statutes attempt to strike a balance between access and privacy. Each law permits some access, especially in response to court orders or subpoenas. Several statutes provide that libraries need not disclose circulation records under the state open records law. A number of states allow records of a minor child to be disclosed to a parent or guardian. Performance of library routines permits the disclosure of records to library staff, and records may be disclosed to others if the patrons consent.

The current status of confidentiality laws leaves several issues unclear. Under current legislation, library staff may be liable for civil or criminal liability for wrongful disclosure of records. There is no federal law regarding confidentiality of library records, and the question of whether or not the state legislation limits federal access often arises. Thus far, the federal government has not tested the legislation in the courts. Interstate transactions, like interlibrary loan, raise the question of which state’s law governs access to transaction governs.

Policy in most libraries requires that staff attempt to eradicate past circulation records and preserve the confidentiality of customers. If the circulation system used in a library requires that the name of a borrower appear on a book card or some other record traceable to a book involved, staff should render the name illegible as part of the discharging process. Libraries with automated systems are in a good position to act in defence of confidentiality by ensuring that the system eliminates any link to between the borrower’s name and the specific material borrowed once the item has been returned and any fees paid.

All library staff must be familiar with library policy on disclosure of library records because someday any library employee may be approached by a citizen or governmental authority with the request that the library disclose information on the reading habits or other library use of particular users. Staff who are approached with a request of this kind should refuse to comply and immediately report the request to their supervisor.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Basic library procedures: Circulation functions

“For him that stealth a Book from this Library, let it change into a serpent in his hand and rend him. Let him be struck with Palsy, and his Members blasted. Let him languish in Pain crying aloud for Mercy and let there be no sur-cease to his Agony till he sink in
Dissolution. Let Bookworms gnaw his Entrails in token of the Worm that dieth not, and when at last he goeth to his final Punishment, let the flames of Hell consume him for ever and aye.”
Curse Against Book Stealers,Monastery of San Pedro, Barcelona

Circulation functions, procedure and policy
No matter what types of material a library circulates, there are a number of questions that must first be answered:

  • What items circulate?
  • Who can check out items?
  • How long can they stay out?
  • Will fines be charged, and if so, how much?
  • Will a patron be able to check an item out if there is a fine?
  • How long will a fine continue on a particular item?

Most libraries develop policy and procedure manuals that outline in detail the way that various circulation functions (and other library functions) should be handled. An important first step for anyone who starts working in a library is to become familiar with the details of the circulation manual. You will want to be able to answer any questions that patrons might have about borrowing materials. If you become the manager of a library, an important first step would be determining if the library has a policy and then a procedure for each circulation function. If it does not, developing a manual would be an important first step.

Patron registration and verification
All types of libraries (public, school, special, and academic) need information about their borrower s. Patron registration facilitates the collection of basic information so that patrons do not have to provide this information every time they wish to borrow material. Libraries register patrons in order to:

  1. Identify those who have a right to borrow.
    In a public library most taxpayers and local residents in a city or town would have the right to borrow. Public libraries may also extend privileges to nonresident users. Usually this is because the library is part of larger public library system or network that enables a patron to charge materials from all libraries in a geographic region. This is referred to as reciprocal borrowing.School and academic libraries would be interested in ensuring that staff and student can borrow materials. It should be noted, however, that many academic libraries also permit users outside the university community to register, although, they may charge some kind of registration fee. Special libraries, such as a law library affiliated with a law firm, would restrict the right to borrow to lawyers and staff in the firm.

  2. Identify what their privileges are.In many cases various patrons are assigned particular privileges based on their status.
    For example, in an academic library, university faculty are usually permitted to borrow material for longer periods of time than students. Faculty may also be exempt from overdue fines. Patrons from outside the university may be limited in the amount of material they can borrow.

  3. Identify where patrons can be located.
    Location information is particularly crucial for a public library to obtain. Since public libraries serve a wide variety of people and people may move often, keeping the information up to date is critical. This may be less of a problem for academic, school, and special libraries because users can be tracked down within the institution or workplace.

  4. Give each eligible patron a special form of identification.
    A unique numerical (or alphanumeric) patron identification code is critical for tracking circulation records with most automated circulation systems. In a smaller library using a manual system and where library staff are completely familiar with their users, the patron’s name may be sufficient identification.

  5. Obtain statistical information.
    Patron registration can be used as an opportunity to collect some background information on users. For example, in a public library it may be useful to know occupations, ages, reading interests, geographic location, etc. This information can help the library determine who (or who is not) using the library, develop the collection, and plan services.
    Patron registration in a public library is usually done with a form. Registration with a school, university, or college usually constitutes registration. In a special library, employment in a company usually means that a per son can use the library. Once patrons are registered the method used to identify an authorized person include:
  • Borrower’s card

This would be a special card that include at a minimum the user’s name and identification number (represented both numerically and as a barcode for an automated system). Most public libraries issue a borrower’s card.

  • Identification card
    In an academic setting (or even some school settings), the multi-purpose student identification card (with photo and student identification number) will also serve as the library card. In a special library, the employee identification ca rd may serve as method of identifying authorized users.

  • Registration file
    Since formal registration is usually not required in school libraries and most do not issue student identification cards, registration information from school files is used. Students’ names, room numbers, addresses, and phone numbers can be kept on file by the library or readily accessed from the school’s main office.
  • Regardless of the way in which a patron is registered or the form of identification required, the patron’s first contact with a library is the circulation department. Library personnel should take advantage of this opportunity for creating positive public relations. For instance during borrower registration, information about library policies and services can be distributed. Staff should be prepared to give straightforward, friendly responses regarding a patron’s borrowing privileges and access to the collection. There should also be some room within the library’s patron registration policy for flexibility with regard to identification. For example, in a smaller library which requires a library card, circulation staff may still be able to check materials out without a card to a well-known borrower.

    Charging and discharging
    Procedures for charging and discharging materials will vary depending on the automated circulation system or manual circulation system.

    Whatever circulation system is used, when charging material circulation personnel should make sure that:

    1. The patron is registered with the library or is recognized as a legitimate user of the library.
    2. The materials that he/she wishes to borrow can circulate.
    3. Correct charge-out routines are followed according to a given library’s procedures manual.
    4. The date due is somehow indicated to the patron (e.g. by a stamp on a date due slip or a print-out of borrowed items from an automated circulation system).
    5. A hold is placed on an item if it is not available and the patron still wishes to eventually borrow the item.

    When discharging material circulation personnel should make sure that:

    1. Correct charge-in routines are being followed according to the library’s procedures manual.
    2. The material actually belongs to the library.
    3. Fines are collected, or a note is made that overdue material has been returned.
    4. Returned items are inspected for damage (torn pages, loose bindings, missing labels or cards).
    5. Hold requests are processed properly.

    Loan periods
    Loan periods establish the amount of time that a patron can borrow an item. The length of a loan period can have a big impact on staff workload and patron satisfaction with a library. For example, if loan periods are too long users may be frustrated that they can’t get the materials they want. If loan periods are too short, there will probably be a lot of overdues and staff will be frustrated by the burden of processing them. The length of a loan period depends on a number of factors:

    1. Type of library
    Most public libraries have a loan period from between two and four weeks. School libraries usually have a one or two week loan period. Academic and special libraries may permit longer loan periods for staff because the material is usually being used for work-related matters (e.g. teaching a class, special projects).
    Size of the collection
    A small collection typically means a shorter loan period so that more people can use the materials.
    Frequency with which particular materials circulate
    For instance, children’s books are read quickly and have high circulation demand and so a shorter loan period may be appropriate. Another example would be periodicals in an academic library. These usually are high demand items and lengthy loan periods will frustrate others who may need to consult a particular volume of a research journal.
    4. Purpose of lending materials
    If materials are being loaned for extensive research, longer loan periods may be necessary. Materials being loaned for recreational use, probably should have shorter loan periods.
    5. Clientele served
    Libraries serve a variety of clientele. A special library located in a workplace may choose to lend materials on a longer basis because the materials can be easily tracked down within the building. Public libraries may choose to have four week loan periods in recognition that their patrons do not live close to the library and only visit once a month.
    6. Type of materials
    Some materials are more fragile and require special treatment. For example, magazines, compact disks or videotapes may circulate on shorter loan periods. Other materials such as dictionaries, atlases, and handbooks of various types may not circulate at all because they are consulted by librarians and patrons on a regular basis. Circulating such reference materials will mean that they are not available when needed. As well, if materials are rare and need to be preserved (e.g. very old, rare books) they may not circulate.

    It is often easiest to have a single loan period for all items to provide for consistency in procedures. Other possibilities include: 1.) different loan periods for different collections (e.g. periodicals or audiovisuals); or 2.) a single day each week on which everything is due (e.g. Friday). The latter method may be useful in a smaller library with limited staff because it is easier to keep track of overdues, date s tamps change only one a week, and patrons will get used to everything being due at the same day each week.

    Loan periods are a matter of policy. There should always be some flexibility within the process so that the policy does not need to be changed for exceptions. The length of loan periods should be made very clear to patrons and any exceptions carefully noted.

    Renewals are one way of giving some flexibility in loan periods. As with establishing policies on length of loan, policies must be set regarding renewals. Some of the issues to be resolved are:

    • Should renewals be allowed on all materials or only certain types of materials (e.g. no renewals on audiovisual materials or periodicals)?
    • How many times can items be renewed?
    • Will renewals have to be done in person or can they be done by phone, fax, or e-mail?
    • Will renewals only be permitted to certain types of borrowers (e.g. staff or faculty)?

    In general, most libraries set limits on the number of renewals (two or three) and do not allow books to be renewed more than three or four days in advance of the due date. Overdue items usually cannot be renewed without paying the appropriate fine. With automated systems, patrons may be able to renew items on their own. If there are overdues, the computer system will “block” the user from renewing items. The user will be forced to talk to library staff about the overdues so that the block can be removed.

    Reserve collections are usually found in most school and academic libraries. They address the problem of what to do when a group of students all need to consult materials for a class within a limited period of time for an assignment. Regular loan periods would mean that students would be frustrated because the material would always be circulating and library staff would be annoyed because students would be demanding holds or recalls on material. Public libraries might also need to establish reserve collections in support of school libraries with a “hot” research topic or community continuing education (e.g. cookbooks for a cooking class).

    Both the access and the loan period are usually restricted in a reserve collection. The area where reserve materials are kept are closed to patrons. Staff members retrieve the items at the request of the user. In a school or academic library, the responsibility for placing titles on reserve fall on the instructors. Instructors fill out forms indicating the title, author, and call number of each title they want placed on reserve. The library staff will need to know: how long the material should be kept on reserve; the loan period (2 hours, 2 days, 1 week); whether the material can leave the library, and who can use the material.

    Policies regarding access to reserve collections are changing in some libraries. For example, the University of British Columbia libraries has an open stack reserve area. The reserve area is secure and students cannot leave the area with materials. Additional shelvers are required in the reserve area to keep it organized. However, less staff time is spent on retrieving materials.

    Another option that larger university libraries are exploring is electronic reserves. Instead of storing the physical item on a shelf in the reserve area, an electronic copy is stored on a computer. Students can access the reserve item and print a copy as needed for their own reference. One of the biggest problems is resolving copyright issues.

    Usually titles should be placed on reserve well in advance of the class they are intended for because it takes time to process the material and it might be necessary to recall material to place it on reserve. However, in some instances the library staff only becomes aware that material should be placed on reserve after three or four students come in and request the same material.

    Reserve materials should be easily identified so that they are not accidentally returned to the main circulating collection. Easy methods of identification include applying stickers to book cards, pockets, or spines. As well, patrons using the library should be able to determine that materials are on reserve. In an automated circulation system this can be indicated as part of the circulation status of an item (e.g. charged to reserve). In a manual system, card catalogues can be marked with dots, stars, or paperclips. Alternatively, lists of reserve materials can be posted.

    Recalls and holds
    Library materials are usually either on the shelves or circulating. Recalls and holds are services offered to patrons so that they can obtain materials that are checked out to another user. In the case of recalls, patrons are sent a notification requesting the return of material for another user prior to the date it is due. If the patron does not respond to the recall notice, they may be subject to fines. A hold (sometimes call a reservation) puts a patron on a waiting list for a particular item. The person who currently has the item is permitted to keep the material for the full loan period. However, when he/she returns the item, it cannot be renewed but will go to the next patron on the hold list.

    Patrons who have placed holds are notified that the item is waiting for them in the library.
    Notification may be by postcard, e-mail, phone, or bulletin boards. If that patron does not borrow the recall or hold item within a certain time period (e.g. two weeks) it can be checked out to another patron.

    Materials in heavy demand will place a strain on the recall or hold service. In public libraries, bestsellers may have lengthy hold lists. It can be a public relations nightmare if the waiting period is too long. Public libraries may respond by purchasing multiple copies of a best sellers and limiting loan periods. Academic and special libraries can attempt to overcome demand by placing materials on reserve.

    What happens when a patron is looking for an item that is apparently not in its proper location on the shelf and according to circulation records not checked out? Most libraries then initiate a “search” (or trace) on the item. In a busy library, it is usually impossible to stop what you’re doing to look for a book. The patron is usually asked to fill out a “search form “ that asks for the author, title and call number of the missing item. Later when it may be less busy or, at a certain time each day, staff will search for the missing item(s).

    The usual procedure is to:
    1. Recheck the circulation files (in a manual sys tem where the book card may have been misfiled).
    2. Recheck the shelves to see if the item has been mishelved or, to see if the patron made a mistake in where they were looking for the item.
    3. Look on the bookcarts of materials to be shelved.
    4. Check to see if the book is being mended or bound.
    5. Check library staff offices.
    6. Check the book return slot to see if it has become stuck somewhere in the bin.

    If after this effort, the item still cannot be found then the search form should be put aside and on a regular basis, searched. After a certain time period (three to six months) if the item cannot be found then the cataloguing record should be withdrawn or reordered. In the meantime, the patron should be notified about the status of the search and if necessary, another copy of the item might be requested from another library through interlibrary loan for the patron.

    Overdues, fines, and fees
    Well, you knew we would get here sooner or later! Perhaps no policy and procedure causes as much controversy as overdues and fines. Overdue materials are a problem because they are not available to other library users. Of course, if no one has recalled or put a hold on an item, library patrons may wonder why all the fuss? Fines lead to the public perception that libraries are able to function and buy materials because of the vast quantities of money collected in overdue fines. Why, the public may wonders does the library need more tax money to function? Would that library fines could support a library! Most libraries spend a significant amount of time and money attempting to retrieve overdue materials and collect various fines. Overdue fines represent a drop in the bucket for library revenues and may, or may not, be worth the effort depending on the size and type of library.

    The theory behind fines for overdue material is that they provide an incentive for patrons to return materials on time. Responsible citizens and library users should respect library property and other users’ rights. As well, the return of library materials means that the library will not have to use the acquisition budget to repurchase materials (that may or may not still be in print) but can use it for new acquisitions.

    Many libraries, especially public libraries, have responded to high overdue rates by: increasing fines, imposing service charges, and taking legal action against the worst offenders. Certainly, overdue fines may provide some incentive for returning materials. They also show that the library is serious about the policies that have been established returning loan periods. To a certain extent, fines do provide a source of income for libraries. On the other hand, a number of studies have shown that overdue fines are not a significant deterrent to the ultimate return of items (Patsy Hansel and Robert Burgin, “Hard Facts About Overdues”, Library Journal 108 (February 15, 1983), pg. 350). Hansel and Burgin conducted a survey of North Carolina public libraries in 1981 concerning overdue library materials. They found that most overdue materials are returned within one year and concluded that since most library procedures involving overdues have little or no effect on the return rate, most need not be done. Most overdue materials are returned regardless of what steps libraries take.

    Fines may also have the opposite effect from what they intended. They are certainly a hardship for children, students, the poor and the disadvantage (those who may most need access to a library). Parents may discourage children from using the library if they are constantly paying overdue fines. Pursuing overdue fines may cost more in administration than the revenue they bring to the library. Sometimes excessive fines may result in lower circulation or, result in more theft and mutilation.

    In response to the negative reaction to fines, many libraries (especially public libraries) have tried alternate methods such as amnesty weeks or “fine free days”. During amnesty weeks users can return items without fear of being fined. Response to such efforts is usually quite good and demonstrates that the library is interested in the timely return of materials rather than punishment or revenue generation. Overdues and fines may be avoided if the library has an appropriate loan period for its clientele. As well, if patrons can drop materials outside of regular hours (e.g. evenings or weekends) there may be fewer problems with overdues.

    Libraries that have gone the complete “no fines” route report that the number of overdue notices increase considerably. The trick is to achieve some kind of balance. Fees must not be so high to financially discourage users from returning material. However, they should be high enough to reflect the library’s concern regarding the rights of all library patrons. If a library chooses to go wit h fines, the schedule of fines must be well advertised and there must be a reasonable cycle of notices requesting the return of the material. Given the negative nature of fines, the library should also be very sure of the amount of fines owning. The usual cycle is:
    1. First notice – a card or letter one or two weeks past the due date informing the user that the item is overdue. Studies have indicated that approximately 90-95% of all library materials are returned within four weeks, whether or not overdue notices are sent.
    2. Second notice – a card or letter three weeks past the due date informing the user that they will be billed for replacing the item.

    3. Third notice – a bill sent six to eight weeks past the due date outlining the replacement costs for the items that are overdue. Final notices may be referred to an outside collection agency. In a public library the final recourse may be court action. In an academic library, the library works with the registrar or business office withholding transcripts and degrees from students. In a school library the library staff will contact parents. In fact, in all types of libraries suspension of library privileges may be a very effective last stage in the overdue process.

    The process of sending notifications is easier with an automated system. As well, an automated system can readily be set up to block patrons from borrowing additional items until they have returned the overdue items and paid fines.

    In addition to overdue fines, libraries may also collect fines for damaged materials, lost materials, or lost library identification cards. The fee is designed to replace or repair the material (either fixed in advance or calculated costs of purchasing from a publisher) plus a processing fee. Libraries may also collect fees for the use of certain collections in the library. For example, some libraries have rental collections of audiovisual materials. Regardless of whether a fine or a fee is being collected, a proper receipt should be issued to the patron. Monetary transactions must be tracked with some type of accounting system and cash should be kept in register, locked cash box, or safe.

    There should be some flexibility with overdue policies. For the patron with a good reason for overdues, policies need to be in place that permit staff to waive fines. It is also not a good idea to pursue payment of overdues from the families of patrons who have died. This leads to bad publicity and more negative stereotypes about crazy librarians.

    Security and theft
    Because the circulation desk is typically the last stop that patrons make before they leave the library, circulation desk staff usually have a role to play in library security. Theft is a problem facing all libraries. Missing material is frustrating for both patrons and library staff. Stolen material limits access to information and is a drain on collection development funds. Staff time will have to be spent to reacquire and reprocess the stolen items. If a book is no longer in print, it may not be possible to replace at all.

    To combat theft problems many libraries have purchased and installed theft detection systems. The basic purpose of any surveillance or theft detection system is to prevent materials from being removed from the library without being charged out. Theft detection systems operate on the common principle: electromagnetism. Systems usually interact with detection metal strips hidden in the spines of books, between pages or in the gutters of periodicals. A special detection screen is set up by the library exit. If a patron attempts to leave the library with an item without going through the check-out procedure at the circulation desk, an audible and sometimes, visible alarm (flashing light) is triggered. The exit gate or turnstile locks so that the patron cannot leave.

    Theft detection systems can be set up in one of two ways: 1.) by-pass method and 2.) full-circulating method. In the by-pass method, library materials are permanently activated. They are never “demagnetized” or “desensitized”. Patrons walk through the security gate and circulation staff take the responsibility of passing the items around the gate and giving them to the patron. These systems are less expensive than full-circulation systems because the library does not have to purchase an activate/deactivate unit. They do require more staff time because all items have to be handed to the patron around the security gate.

    The full-circulating method usually involves the use of a special activate/deactivate unit purchased from the manufacturer. During the check-out procedure, staff run items across the units to desensitize them. During the check-in procedure, a switch is flipped on the unit and all items are re-sensitized.

    Theft detection puts the circulation staff in the position of security guard. When an alarm goes off many patrons are surprised and quickly surrender the item they have. In many cases, they have absentmindedly walked off without going to the circulation desk. Sometimes circulation staff are put into the uncomfortable position of having to search a patron’s bag, backpack, or briefcase. In the event that a patron runs away with an item (by jumping the turnstile), a call to the police or security guard is the best solution. Many libraries have special procedures for handling patrons when the alarm goes off. This ensures that patrons are handled consistently with respect and tact.

    Problem patrons
    Having touched on the theft detection role that is involved with circulation, a few words also need to be said about “problem patrons”. Unfortunately, circulation desk staff are often on the frontlines with regard to dissatisfied library users. Circulation staff are responsible for explaining overdue policies, collecting fines, and catching thieves. As well, if a library is open in the evenings and on the weekend, limited staffing is usually provided. Thus, the job of clearing out the library often falls on circulation (which has to be staffed all the hours that a library is open).

    Faced with an upset and angry patron, circulation desk staff need to be prepared to be courteous and calm. Most patrons will eventually calm down. For those, who are out of control, a policy needs to be in place that protects staff. Often, a good strategy is to refer the patron to the head of the library. This will give the individual a feeling that their complaint is being heard by someone else who may be in the position to change things. If no one else is around, staff should not hesitate to call the police or building security if they feel threatened. Such incidents should always be described in writing so that a record is on hand if there are any further problems from the individual.

    Patron confidentiality
    All patrons, whether they are difficult or not, deserve the right to privacy. In establishing charging and reserve procedures, the library staff must be conscientious about patron privacy. It is really no one else’s business what anyone is reading.

    Patron privacy is a sensitive issue. People read for pleasure, but also for self-education in dealing with issues concerning themselves and their families. It is their right to have their privacy protected and library staff should be aware of protecting this right for their patrons. There are legal and ethical considerations regarding patron confidentiality. Canadian implications are similar to those in the United States.

    Through the use of barcodes on library cards or identification cards, some patron protection is built into a circulation system. A very frequent occurrence, especially in a small library, is a patron who is looking for an item and finds that it is checked out to someone else. Patrons will often approach the circulation desk wanting to know who has borrowed the item. They believe they probably know the patron and would like to get them to give the material up. Circulation staff should be very clear with patrons that they cannot give out any kind of patron information. Recalls and holds offer solutions to these individuals. Although they may not get their hands on the material as quickly as they like, patrons will be more satisfied if they believe they can borrow material and use it privately.

    Circulation statistics
    To close, a few words on circulation statistics. At the end of the day after all the various circulation functions have come to a close, circulation statistics tell part of the story about what happened in a library in a given day, month, or year. The purpose of gathering statistics is to provide management with information on how the collection is used and to indicate need for changes in:

    staff scheduling
    collection weeding
    reserve practices
    duplication practices
    selection based on use of various classification schemes

    Library personnel may require the following statistical information:

    · number of items loaned
    · subject classes of items
    · circulation by format type
    · peak/low times of day/year
    · circulations per volume owned
    · circulations per capita
    · proportion of circulated to uncirculated items in total collection
    · attendance figures

    As previously noted, many automated circulation systems can provide a variety of statistical reports. Although it is more time consuming, in most libraries with manual circulation systems also keep track of the number of books that were circulated each day by various categories (e.g. adult and juvenile) and by classification. These statistics are kept by counting book cards and recording information on statistics sheets.

    Additional references
    Battaile, Connie. Circulation serves in a small academic library. Westport, Conn. : Greenwood Press, 1992.
    Burgin, Robert and Hansel, Pansy. Library overdues: analysis, strategies and solutions to the problem. New York : Haworth Press, 1984.
    Manitoba. School Library Curriculum Services. Circulation manual: a guide for school libraries. Winnipeg : Manitoba Education and Training, 1992.
    Burnaby Public Library. Membership and Policies. Sample of circulation policies of a public library.
    University of Alberta. Circulation policies and procedures. Sample of circulation policies of an academic library.
    Winnipeg Public Library. Library cards and borrowing information.
    Electronic Reserves Clearinghouse: Links and Materials on the WebSite providing information about setting up electronic reserve systems

    Sample patron registration form from the Winnipeg Public Library