The Oneonta Public Library Board enacted a policy at its May meeting to use a collection agency to encourage patrons to return overdue materials to the library. The patron whose account is turned over to the collection agency, Unique Management Services, will be charged a $10 non-refundable handling fee, in addition to fines and other charges owed on overdue materials.
Oneonta head librarian Gail Sheldon said the policy was developed with fairness to all patrons in mind. Materials not returned on time are not available for others to use. If materials are not returned at all, money from the library budget is used to replace them. That same money could be better used to purchase new items instead of replacing nonreturned materials, Sheldon said.
“The new policy is fair, it’s polite, and nobody’s hassled, but we’re serious about getting our books back,” she said.
So what happens when materials are overdue? Here’s the procedure:
•At 14 days past due, the library mails you an overdue notice.
•At 30 days past due, the library calls to remind you about your overdue materials. It also sends a second overdue notice, notifying you of fines due and any other fees or charges.
•At 45 days past due, accounts with an outstanding balance of $25 or more will be forwarded to Unique Management Services, and a $10 charge will be added to what is owed.
•The collection agency will contact you to arrange return of the overdue materials and payment of outstanding charges. It will make multiple attempts to contact you for 120 days. If you do not return the materials and arrange payment within that time, your account will proceed to the final stage.
•At 165 days past due, the collection agency reports your overdue account to a credit reporting agency such as Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion, which may affect your credit rating for up to seven years.
Sheldon said only a very small percentage of patrons do not return materials as agreed. Unfortunately, this small percentage – on the order of 2 to 3 percent of the total – account for losses of as much as $13,000 annually, most of it due to unreturned materials. She added the new policy will not affect the great majority of patrons who return materials on time.
“A free public library depends on the honor system to function,” Sheldon said. “No services we provide do we charge for. We offer data bases, on-line services, summer classes, as well as book check-out, and it’s all free. If someone requests a new book we don’t have, most of the time I will order it. It could come to the point where I can’t do that, if we can’t get this loss problem under control.
“I don’t like to do this,” she said, “but I’m very aware of my responsibility to taxpayers who provide the funding for this library through the city, the county, and the state, and I’m determined to be a good steward of their money.”