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Hardin County Public Library is beginning a trial period using a service that would try to recoup some of the large fines and long-overdue books.
Library board members voted this month to use a 90-day trial with Unique Management Services. That trial is set to begin in January.
Director Rene Hutcheson said Unique is a material recovery service, not a collection agency, and the library mostly wants materials returned so others can use them, rather than having to buy new books or media.
“We want to be as generous as possible when working with patrons on the return of our materials,” she said.
The library system usually replaces high-demand items and parts of a series.
The hope of replacing such items is why officials are using Unique to find people with more than $25 in unreturned materials and are 60 days or more overdue. The organization will then begin sending letters and phone calls requesting the patron return the materials and pay any fines.
The customer can be reported to a credit agency as a last resort after a certain period of time.
Library officials still are working with Unique to decide when calls and letters would be sent, when patrons would be reported and other details.
The library system’s policy already states it can use the County Attorney’s Office or the services of another agency to retrieve materials and any associated fines or item costs.
Of the library’s materials, 16.5 percent are considered lost and 2.5 percent are considered missing because of theft. Items are marked as lost when they become 30 days overdue, Hutcheson said.
“It’s shocking that almost one-fifth of our collection is not available to patrons because of the failure of other patrons to return their materials,” she said.
Using Unique also is meant to cut out the time staff members have been spending calling those who owe materials to the library and the rudeness with which they are sometimes greeted, Hutcheson said.
The money spent on one title can triple when the cost of processing the material and staff labor are accounted for, she said.
Hutcheson said she has spoken with several library directors in the state who have used Unique for many years, and they all say they have a 3-to-1 or a 4-to-1 return on their investment and usually get back 70 percent of lost items.
Patrons will continue to receive emails and calls when materials are overdue, but it’s their responsibility to know when items are due, Hutcheson said.
They can check their receipts or library catalogue or call and ask.
Hutcheson said patrons shouldn’t be afraid to return overdue items because library employees are understanding and will work with people on a payment plan if needed.
The library system might waive fines for extreme emergencies and are running a food for fines program this month, she said.
“We are here to serve and try every day to provide new materials to our customers in a timely manner,” she said.
Amber Coultercan be reached at (270) 505-1746 or firstname.lastname@example.org.