Sunday, January 27, 2008

AutoRenewal

Apologies, it's been a while since the last post, hope this will make up for it:

What mindless, rote activity is performed hundreds or perhaps thousands of times every day through most individual libraries across the globe that should easily be automated requiring no human intervention by either the patron or staff members? (OK, the post-title gave it away....) Renewing checked out items.

Manual renewal requires a patron to:
1. Remember to make the effort to renew
2. Make time to go online to renew
OR
Make time to phone to renew (and a phone call may or may not require additional staff assistance)
OR
Make time to take a trip into the library where additional staff assistance may or may not be required

Multiplying the individual effort above by the number of patrons renewing items daily (not to mention situations where multiple items are being renewed) adds up quickly.

Automating this process would free up a good deal of extra time which could be more productively used by patrons and likely staff members.

Additionally, an AutoRenewal setup is more patron friendly. Traditionally if a patron forgets to make the effort to renew that means the item is likely overdue and perhaps fines accrue. In an AutoRenewal setup, if a patron forgets to manually renew before the due date or return the item, depending on your circulation policies, AutoRenewal could swoop in and save the day for the patron by extending the due date.

Sure this is all fine and good you say, but why not just extend the initial loan period or go to a recall system rather then setting up a process to the same effect?
My response is that if your circulation policies are anything like the ones at my library, the effect isn't quite the same.

At the Arlington Heights Memorial Library if an item has an outstanding reserve request on it, items on loan cannot be renewed. In an AutoRenewal setup if an item cannot be renewed because of outstanding reserve requests, the borrower receives an email the day the item is due indicating the item is due today as it could not be renewed. Consequently, as opposed to an initial longer loan period, the item isn't kept out of the hands of other desirous patrons as long.

In the case of a recall system (and I have to admit I am not as familiar with the various shades of this animal) it's my impression the patron would have to be more aware they might need to return their item at any time, perhaps after a guaranteed initial period. With regular, guaranteed loan intervals, it would seem the borrower is more likely to be on top of the situation at or around the various due dates.

Recall systems incorporating an unlimited loan period are another situation all together. If your library isn't interested in loaning items out for an indefinite amount of time, there is no reason why an AutoRenewal setup could not limit the number of times an item can be renewed to 1 or 2 or however many maximum renewals are desired.

So why does it appear ILS's just don't offer AutoRenewal? Not sure. At AHML we are experimenting with a home-grown script (written by script virtuoso Harvey Hahn) which works on top of our Innovative ILS to affect AutoRenewal - complete with a maximum of 2 renewals, the ability to manually renew before the due date if desired and notifying emails when an item can not be renewed. Those that have been "experimented on" love it, and we hope to roll it out to our entire patron population in the near future.

AutoRenewal may not be for every library given it's individual collection, patrons and circulation policies, but I think it could benefit a great number of libraries - but most importantly patrons.

Is anyone aware of libraries offering some sort of AutoRenewal? Some cursory research uncovered an online intra-academic library service in Israel that seems to do the same thing, but no other comparable AutoRenewal services were uncovered.

1 comment:

lentigogirl said...

My local library (Arlington, Virginia) sends an email 3 days before books are due, with a link to the online renewal. So it isn't quite automatic, but it's extremely convenient and has substantially cut down on my fines.