This morning, I’ve been watching a small PR fiasco unfold. According to CBS Boston, Charlton Public Library sent a police officer to collect overdue books from a 5-year-old. The story also made the Drudge Report and the UK’s Daily Mail – gotta love that international media attention!
OK – there’s obviously a LOT more to the story that was left out. For example, there’s no mention in the article of the reporter actually talking to library staff, who could have filled in the details (they DID talk to the library – it’s mentioned in the video version of the story).
Via Facebook, the library filled in some pertinent details (i.e., what actually happened) after getting some nasty Facebook comments:
“Library materials are purchased using taxpayer dollars. We feel as library staff that it is our duty to safeguard those tax dollars. We have asked the Charlton Police Dept. to help recover items from those patrons who have been delinquent in returning materials for more than 6 months and who have at least $100 worth of unreturned materials at their homes. We follow our standard procedure of phonecalls and/or emails to remind patrons to return their materials. A bill is sent out once an item is overdue for a month. Sending out the police is a last resort effort to get back some of our most valuable items. The police visited 13 families whose outstanding balance totaled $2634.00 in library materials.” (from Charlton Public Library’s Facebook Page - also just added to the main page of the library’s website).
So good for them for using Facebook and their website to quickly respond to the story.
After I read the article, I first visited the library’s website and tried to find their fines and fees policy. Here’s all I found (until they updated the site and their Facebook Page):
- Print and audio materials accrue a 10 cent daily overdue fine with a $3.00 maximum fine per item.
- Dvd and video items accrue a $1.00 daily overdue fine with a maximum fine of $5.00 per item.
- Patrons are responsible for the repair or replacement of lost or damaged items. Failure to pay fines or damages will result in the loss of borrowing privileges at C/WMARS libraries.
- from their Library Services page
What’s missing here? Any information about the process, what happens if you don’t pay your late fees, etc – other than the “loss of borrowing privileges” info. That sounds VERY different than explanation from the library quoted above, doesn’t it?
How can this be improved? Simple – if you have a policy, a guideline, a process for fines and fees (or for anything else, for that matter) – put it on your website. Probably in a Library Policies section, or a link to appropriate places on your site. For example, the late fee policy/process could be added to your “get a library card” page.
Then, when the media calls asking why you’re sending police to a poor 5 year old child, you can explain … but you can also email them a link to the appropriate policy and process.
Question – if one of your library customers had a policy-type question, could that question be answered using your website?
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