I am the sole librarian for my church's small (>1500 volumes) library.  Currently, the library is housed in a large common-area room with no way to control access.  We use the honor system for checkout, with a card in each book for people to drop in a secure box when they check out. There is a high rate of late/no returns.  Today, I went into the library to find that the book cards had been removed from several shelves of books and are nowhere to be found.  Needless to say, I am discouraged that so many people can't be bothered to return the books so others can read them, and also that someone decided to undo several hours of my labor by taking the book check-out cards.

The bright side is that the building that houses the library is going to be replaced, so I find myself in a unique position to establish a new system and possibly break some old, bad habits.  The library will be packed up and stored for 6 months to a year, then housed in a large adult classroom when the new building is complete.  

 Automation is not a possibility, nor is staffing the library for check-outs.  The new space will have a door, and I can request that it be lockable to maintain control over when the library is used.  I'm considering asking that children under a certain age be accompanied by an adult when using the library. Also, perhaps a check-out binder rather than cards. Thanks in advance for any ideas and suggestions. 

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Patrons not returning borrowed materials is a problem in libraries of all sizes. We are fully automated and staffed. When people check out materials we have names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses. etc . and if they don't want or care to return materials they just won't. We mail overdue notices, call them on the phone and even on occasion send them a postage paid and addressed padded envelope hoping they will mail the book back. Most of the time that will not even work. They know there is nothing else you will do about it and they just keep the items. Unfortunately it is just part of what happens in libraries. Try to keep a positive attitude and press on.  Glad to hear you are getting a new space. That is always exciting and will bring in a lot of new people. Hopefully the new surroundings will bring on a better attitude of responsibility with your patrons. Maybe even post a sign thanking them in advance for returning all items. Something like I have attached.  


Paul, thanks for your response and encouraging words.  I can't say I'm glad to hear that a fully automated and staffed library suffers from many of the same problems that we have in our little library, but it does help me to realize that our problems aren't due to something being done "wrong".  I like your sign and will remember to post something similar when we move into our new space.

Our library is smaller than Paul's but a good size, around 10,500 items at present.  Our "overdue list" is perpetually close to 200 items, more than half of what is out at any one time.  I confess we haven't been great about regularly sending out notices because it is a huge job and we are all just volunteers, but even when we do, it only gets us back around 30 or 40 items at most.  Often, we end up replacing things.  It is annoying and frustrating, but we have tried to rest in it and view it as part of running this type of ministry.  I volunteer in my village library, where one of the jobs I do is checking their overdue list to make sure none of the items are on the shelf and just somehow didn't get processed correctly in the computer.  I'm often astounded at how long some of these items have been out, especially considering that I know that library does send out notices, weekly, I believe.  

I like your sign! I'm thinking about showing it to my co-librarian and talking about whether we should do something like that.  I think we would be more direct about "returning items" though... :-)

Over the many years of working in libraries and bookstores, I understand that you wont your materials returned.  I have come to think of it more as a ministry to their hearts.  If they keep the book/movie, etc., perhaps they will reuse it often enough to come back to the God of the Bible.  Or, that may have been God's plan all along, that someone  needs to keep the very book that we purchased so that someone else might read it who would never come into a church.

Just my way of looking at this issue.

Jean, that is a wonderful way to look at the issue.  Now that you mention it, I had a similar discussion with myself when I first got involved in the library.  I guess I got a little more possessive after I spent so many hours getting everything cataloged and labeled.  Thank you for helping me get my mind and heart back to where they should be.

Jenn, that is a good way to look at the non return of items in that perhaps something helpful to someone will come of it and I hope that happens. Of course there are other ramifications too. While this patron is holding on to a title and not returning it there may be another individual or even a line of people waiting to gain benefit from that title too that are prevented from doing so because someone else will not follow the library guidelines that seek to administer a ministry in a decent and orderly manner that will benefit all patrons.  Then too there may be some titles from an entertainment perspective that will probably not have any spiritual benefit even though it is good family oriented entertainment. But as you say if they simply will not return the title we can pray that the Lord will use the title to work in their lives or the lives of someone else and that the individual will eventually understand the importance of returning in good faith items that are borrowed and are there for everyone and not just them.  

Paul, I agree to "not returning it there may be another individual or even a line of people waiting to gain benefit from that title too that are prevented from doing so because someone else will not follow the library guidelines".

Our answer has been to allow the material the chance to be returned for one year.  After that we replace it.  Perhaps this works only because we are such a small library with such a small circulation.  It does work though.

That sounds like a good policy. We usually wait too as long as possible(sometimes a year or more) in hope that it will return unless it is in big demand at the time and we have to go on and rebuy. 

Jenn, this is a great idea. 

We too agree with the idea that expectant loss of library items is part church library service & pray that the item(s) will continue to bless or draw others to Christ Jesus. 

I believe in our church, people genuinely forget about their borrowed item(s) & one person requested a reminder be sent out. I've found lost items in a local thrift store! 

I 've been thinking about the following & wonder what you and the others think about this process: 

1. 1 month overdue -- Renew once  & Sending out an email or text informing that their item(s) are renewed & please to enjoy the item. (Most people have been apologitic about overdue items. This may be all that they want or need & hopefully is a nice gesture).

2. 1 month overdue 2nd time -- Some kind of email or text with a gentle reminder of their item(s) & do they wish to renew the item?  (They have online accounts, but I can offer to do it for them).

If not renewed nor response:  

3.  6 months overdue  --- List item(s) as "Lost"  

4. 1 year overdue -- replace or delete from system. 

----We also don't have huge circulation, but it's picked up a little since I've been reorginizing books. In all this, i hope to be gracious & to encourage use of the library without being too much in-the-face about it. 



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