Hayward’s fine-free library system

It’s an interesting experiment, apparently the first of its kind in the nation. Users of Hayward libraries will soon have the option of paying a nominal monthly fee in exchange for never having to return the materials. That is, they’d have to return the materials when they want to check out something else, just like the Netflix movie rental system.

Other libraries have tried the other part of the Netflix model, mailing materials to library users. Orange County, Fla., has a particularly successful system that library users love. Here’s some discussion on that service. But they don’t charge the fee and they don’t drop the due date, and that’s what makes Hayward’s system unique.

DVD late fees run a dollar a day, books and other materials cost a quarter per item. For those who use the library as a movie resource, it wouldn’t take too many forgetful mornings to rack up the $3 a month it costs to join the optional new plan.

What about those items that go missing for an extended period? Sean Reinhart, the acting library director, said they will buy additional copies when people begin to queue up for hot items. They will use the same system they do now: Whenever three or more people are on the waiting list, an additional copy will be acquired.

Reinhart said they expect to have the new model up and running by Christmas.

I corresponded with Reinhart about potential problems, i.e. research materials going missing for extended periods, out-of-print books. Some of the information is in the story, but for those who want to know more, click on the “Read the rest of this entry.” And here’s a library blogger’s thoughts about adopting the entire Netflix model.

What if someone checks out an older research-oriented title and decides to hang onto it for a year? 

[sean.reinhart] That is exactly the idea. Sometimes people want to borrow an item for a longer period of time, but the traditional system of due dates and late fines limits their ability to access the item in a way that suits their schedule and lifestyle. The “Fines-Free” option is a way to make the library and its resources more accessible for more people in today’s fast-paced, busy world. If a book is checked out on the “Fines-Free” plan for an extended period of time, and another customer seeks access by placing a request on it, in most cases the Library will simply purchase another copy.

 What if the title is out-of-print?

 [sean.reinhart] For the past several years, the Library’s collection development policy like many other public libraries emphasizes the purchase of current, popular materials that meet community demand. Our collection has very few out-of-print items in the first place – we simply do not have the space in our buildings nor the demand from our community to justify storing older, little used items for very long. Hayward Public Library cardholders have free access to the LINK+ system, which enables them to search the collections of 50 other libraries (including several large university and research libraries) all across California and Nevada. Items in those collections – including out of print items in many cases – can be requested electronically and delivered to Hayward Public Library for pick up, at no charge to the customer, in 2-4 business days. Some restrictions apply; see the library’s website for details: http:// library.hayward-ca.gov.

What if no one else has the particular book? Will there be a way to recall such materials? Or is that type of stuff in the library-use-only stacks?

 [sean.reinhart] Some library materials are designated as “Library Use Only” for these reason and others. (For example, the Reference collections.) These items can’t be checked out.

 Currently the Library has 160,000 items in its collection. At any given time, around 35,000 of those items (20%) are overdue! So even the traditional plan with its due dates and overdue fines is no guarantee that borrowers will bring materials back in a timeframe we prescribe. In fact, we think people on the “Fines-Free” plan will most likely return borrowed materials as often as possible, potentially even faster than people on the traditional library plan, in order to exchange them for new ones. It makes sense that people who choose to go “Fines-Free” will want to make the most out of the plan. Because this the first library service of its kind, there’s no precedent – I’m looking forward to seeing the actual data over the first 12 months and comparing how long people keep items out between the two plans. I think the results will be eye-opening for libraries around the nation.








Eric Kurhi