Hello everybody. Today we’re breaking history here at the blog: I don’t believe we’ve ever had a guest blogger! So today’s post is brought to you by my lovely wife. Don’t be fooled, she has an ax to grind…
Dear Chicago Public Library,
You stink. Not literally (maybe sometimes, or at some locations, or some patrons) but your employees certainly have trouble doing simple tasks. Well, one particular task—checking in books left in the book deposit. You would think I would have learned from the first, second, third, or fourth times you messed up. Apparently, I am a bit dense. I have no idea if this is a system-wide problem, but I suspect as much, since it has happened multiple times to me and others at my two local branches (Blackstone and Coleman FWIW). I have paid all the previous fines until now. I think they were all $.20 or $.10 (prior to the fine increase), except one that was $2.40.
I can understand a book may slip out of the collecting bucket and you find it the next day so it is one day late (although, you would think any books this happens to would be checked in with no fine, since it was your fault it was missed and you don’t know how long it was lying in a dark corner of the deposit box…There was also the time when the person on the register managed to check out a book to me instead of checking it in but I digress…).
The $2.40 was the last straw. I promised myself that I would always return books at the register. This wasn’t a problem when you opened at 9am every day or when I was home every day on maternity leave. It was less of a problem when I had a car.
So after a year or so of waiting every time at the register for my checked-in receipt, I even foolishly began to trust that when books were returned inside (just left in a stack beside the register because you don’t see fit to provide an internal book deposit), they would actually be checked in, so I stopped wasting paper and my time and just left them there.
Although my memory for this is understandably less detailed, I have had the occasional late book or DVD and certainly respect the system enough to pay my fine. And if my daughter rips a book to pieces during her “relaxing time,” I have no problem paying for a replacement either.
However, this last mistake has driven me over the edge.
One day, I get an email that I have a book overdue. I had recently returned >20 books (to the dropbox, since the library doesn’t open before noon anymore on Mondays). I checked my account and found that I had one book listed as returned overdue by 3 weeks with a $4.80 fine (Hat Heads) and two books (Babar and Charlotte in Paris) listed as 3 weeks overdue and not checked in. (Sidenote–Why would you set up a system where it emails someone about the books three weeks after they are due instead of the first day they overdue? Why bother with the email at that point?) I did some research online and deduced that Hat Heads was checked out to another patron the day it was marked as checked in for me. Obviously the book had been reshelved and not entered into the system until someone tried to check it out (which somehow doesn’t trigger an automatic erasure of the fine). So, I called you, and spoke to the librarian…who absolutely refused to believe me!
I can understand some initial skepticism. People lie. No one likes to pay money. Library users are probably especially against spending money—they’re either poor or frugal, that’s why they’re at the library in the first place. However, two times I have checked out books only to find the system shows that the book was never checked in from the previous patron, so, I am obviously not the only person this has happened to. If you are a public librarian, you are in the business of customer service, whether you like it or not.
Okay, so she didn’t believe me about Hat Heads. I still had two other books on the list to tackle. When I looked at my account again, the status of Charlotte in Paris had suddenly changed to being checked in late with a fine of $4.80 and CHECKED BACK OUT TO ME!
In the meantime, however, the librarian went to check for Babar on the shelf. Of course, she swore to me that it wouldn’t be there since it was from another branch and EVEN IF it had been brought back, it would have been shipped to the other branch and put back on the shelf there. Well, yes if it had been checked in, I am sure that would be the case. Since it was never checked back in, she of course found it on the shelf.
Now, she was very apologetic about it, but only for that specific book. She refused to believe that if one book was missed, it was also likely that the two others were missed as well. Forget that this has happened multiple times to me before, and also at least twice to books that I have checked out.
Finally, she said that the library powers-that-be required documentation for her to do anything about it. She asked if I had the paper slip from when they were checked out showing the due date as that could be used for documentation. I don’t keep those things. I don’t need any more clutter in my house! And why would a slip showing when it was due support that I had actually returned it? I explained that I always renew things online since I don’t make it to the library as often as I would like. When she asked if I had taken a SCREENSHOT showing the due dates, I actually managed to laugh through my tears of frustration.
I’m sorry but I do not take screenshots of the library web page every time I renew a book and save it to a file on the computer. I don’t think someone with that much OCD has time to read books anyway. And even if I did, I can’t figure out what it would do to support my claim that I returned the books.
Around this point, she noticed that Charlotte in Paris had magically been checked in and checked back out while I was on the phone with her. She broke down and agreed to fix everything. I’m not sure why she had a change of heart. Maybe after 35 minutes of listening to an increasingly frustrated person while she is pumping at work with people banging on her closed door because there are two add-on patients for her to see, she realized that no person would put herself through that if she were lying.
Anyway, the fines were removed. Babar was marked as returned on time. However, the magical self-checking-in-checking-back-out book couldn’t be checked back in since it was from another library and must be on the truck to that library right now (because, you know, nothing could go wrong with the system). The other library would have to check it in when it was received. I was told to call back in a week if it was still not checked in.
Today, after waiting 15 days without it being checked in, I finally called. After being forced to call back once and then refusing to call back the second time, I was finally transferred to the same librarian who helped me before.
At least I didn’t have to explain too much of the story before she remembered me. She reluctantly went to look for Charlotte in Paris on the shelf, and lo-and-behold it had MAGICALLY APPEARED! All three books, all showing up where I said they’d be, completely unrelated to each other, each one a surprise.
The librarian was very apologetic. I appreciate this, but you can’t really apologize enough for me to feel better about the whole debacle. It certainly caused a difficult day at work and gave me a lot of angst over the past couple weeks.
Other than making sure I return books and get a receipt, I am not sure what I can do about the problem. If it ever happens again that I check out a book that hasn’t been checked in, I will be sure to talk to the librarian about it immediately because I would sure love to save someone the trouble I have gone through. I still don’t know why this doesn’t trigger an automatic removal of the fine.
Chicago Public Library, please figure out how to improve your system. I know that you are a huge library, but between myself and my husband, we have never had a book not checked-in correctly at Kent District Library, Allen County Public Library, Tippecanoe County Public Library, Greensboro Public Library, Montgomery County – Norristown Library, or Radnor Memorial Library.
Your continuing patron (yes, I have been back during this ordeal),