This morning at our "staff update" meeting we had an interesting discussion about the new $1.00 fee for uncollected holds that our Board of Trustees approved last week. As background, PVLD allows customers to place holds on items, whether in the library or not, for free. Some customers abuse this privilege by placing large numbers of items on hold and then not collecting them. We did a study and discovered that dealing with uncollected holds takes over 17 hours each week - essentially one part-time position.
At this morning's meeting someone asked "Why don't we charge a fee for placing holds on items that are on the shelf rather than a fee for uncollected holds?" This is an interesting question as it really relates to customer service philosophy.
One approach is to provide as many library services as possible for free, with fees used to deter abuse. At PVLD this approach is reflected in our fees for overdue items as well as in the new fee for uncollected holds.
Another approach is to use fees to in effect "ration" use of limited, popular, and costly to maintain resources. It is not uncommon for libraries to charge this type of fee for new and costly formats of materials. At PVLD this philosophy is reflected in our fees for meeting room use and for certain audiovisual items such as Books on Tape/CD, videocassettes, and DVDs. Now that audiobooks and videos/DVDs have become such a core part of our collection, we will be considering removal of some or all of the fees for these items. In future we may introduce fees for other types of items. For example some libraries circulate electronic equipment such as MP3 players or even laptop computers, and if PVLD were to implement such a service it may very well be fee-based to help offset the costs of acquiring and maintaining this type of equipment.
A third approach is to pay people for services that are a "convenience". A fee for all holds placed on items that are in the library would all under this category. At PVLD we have generally steered away from this type of fee, on the basis that offering convenience encourages library use in an environment where people have many other convenient and inexpensive options (e.g. Google books, Netflix, etc.) In fact, one of our core Strategic Plan objectives is "To make it easy and convenient for people to use PVLD - deliver what they want, how they want it, where they are". Convenience fees that could in fact discourage library use don't really support this objective.
I realize that the approach we have taken at PVLD is demanding of staff. It takes effort to deliver customer convenience, and judgment to deal with customers who feel they have been charged fees unfairly. It is easier on staff to simply charge a standard convenience fee to everyone who wants to reserve items that are in the library than it is to deal with the patron who claims they never got the message that their hold was available. The questions is what is better for the majority of customers?
As with most things in life there is no "right" answer to these questions, just the ongoing struggle to deliver the best possible service to the greatest number of people with always limited financial and staff resources.
Comments are welcome!