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Libraries Are Built On Trust

Updated on February 24, 2012

Libraries operate using the honor system - you trust them to let you know when what you want comes in, and they trust you to return their materials on time or face the consequences. When this trust is broken, the whole system might just be thrown into disarray. Failure of one or both parties to comply can lead to fines, banishment, or simply a loss of faith in communications.

The library circulation area is a busy place. With so much coming in and going out, processing may take a while and librarians may be called to do other duties. Once in a while, things do tend to go overlooked. Instances of circulation oversight include but are not limited to:

Missed holds - Sometimes this is a computer issue or sometimes it can be manual error. If something was supposed to be put on reserve for you, it should come up on the circulation desk's computer screen when the item in question is checked back in. This is assuming you or a librarian have put your correct library card's bar code into the system when reserving it. Manual error occurs when you input the bar code incorrectly, when a librarian or third party puts inputs it incorrectly or forgets to in the first place, when a librarian or volunteer mistakenly puts the item back on the shelf, or when the item you requested is put on the reserve shelf for you but no one remembers to contact you.

Wrongful fines - This is a problem for those who have returned library materials on time but are told that they never did. This can be caused by computer error in systems that need to input the data twice - once to mark the material as available and again to remove it from a patron's record. I ran into this once in high school. My friend returned a library book to our school library, and I saw him do it. The book sat on the display shelf on the back wall for weeks, and he was still receiving notices from the office that he hadn't returned it and would be fined. It was plain to anyone who had been in the library that the book was there for all to see; the problem lay in the computer system or the person in charge of checking it back in (in this case, a student intern). For this reason, you should investigate all fines against you if you know you have returned your items on time. They may very well be lost inside the library system or the building itself.

Remember that the person primarily responsible for the items you check out is yourself. Even if you're borrowing materials for someone else, you are the one who is going to be held accountable for the items checked out using your card. Do not let someone borrow your card or give out your library bar code number, and do not lend out materials you have borrowed using your card to someone else who may not return them to you on time or at all. Beyond that, you should work with the librarians you know and cand depend on to resolve your issues in a timely manner. Above all, keep in mind the other people who use the library who might be waiting for you to return your materials on time so that they might have some time to enjoy them. Wear and tear is to be expected, but wipe down the discs or tape torn pages when you can - it will be much appreciated. Suggestions for items to add to the shelves are welcome as well as gently used donated items.


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