I recently began working on the
Circulation Check-Out Desk for one shift a week and I am enjoying the opportunity to interact with patrons again. I really do miss some of the chances for interaction that only occur at the desk. Helping students get course reserve copies, trying to find something in the lost and found and having a shift where I’m not trapped in front of my computer staring at OCLC is a welcome change of pace. I love ILL but there are some weeks where all I hear from patrons are: accusations that we lost/hid/stole the book that they’re sure they turned in; that our policy is completely ridiculous and why can’t they we change it, that the point of ILL is to get text books (or the latest season of their favorite TV show) for free, and various sundry general complaints. One thing that does not change between the ILL work and the circulation shift is the general air of puzzlement over due dates.
I wish I knew who trains our incoming grad students and new faculty on services available to them through the library. I would love the opportunity to help at a training session and be on hand to answer ILL questions in addition to the information they are getting about reference and department specific services (and frankly helping at a training session would help my CV as well). I’m always a little surprised that their confusion over the due dates that come with their ILL items. In some cases, it seems justified if the due date is particularly short and the school specifies no renewals. In most cases the due dates the library gives to grads and faculty/staff are very generous. In some ways perhaps the length of time given on a loan is too generous.
Library item due dates and deadlines have a great deal in common and there are several different approaches to circumventing responsibly getting the book back on time. One is to use the material as soon as it is in your hands. This approach seems to happen with a much anticipated novel or a book with a very short due date. If you start having books for a longer period of time, say 3-6 months it is easy to start referring to portions of the book without copying out the needed material, or placing in a to do pile and either meaning but never quite getting to it or looking at the book right before it is due. Books out for a very long time run the risk of disappearing into bookshelves of non-library populated books where you could easily forget you do not own them or become permanent decorating fixtures.
I know for myself, I have several books that I heard reviews on NPR for, found them at the library and because I have a very long staff due date set them in a to-read pile that now graces my cubicle shelf. I do intend to read them at some point but I’ve schoolwork to finish, thank you cards to write, an internship to chip away at, social networks to dazzle, and a life to live. When books come with a long due date the temptation to let them sit without being read is very easy to follow. I know there are systems in place for other patrons who want my books to place a recall or an ILL request but what about the patrons who don’t know how to use these systems (or what if I decide to be selfish and keep my book past the due date)? Is it worthwhile to have a library book and pay for the upkeep of this book if it is checked out for long periods of time by the same patron and does not get regular use?
In an age of online renewals from any computer I propose moving toward a middle ground with due dates moving towards a period that is short enough to keep books in rotation and to encourage use while still being long enough that researchers would not feel unduly put-upon to request renewals. The shorter due dates would allow for less of a disparity between the system owned books and out of system books, so checking due dates would become natural and less onerous. Hopefully this would also lessen the opportunities for books to go missing or misshelved if they are constantly being referred to throughout a project.