What If Patrons Decide Their Own Due Dates?

Patron Generated Check-out Lengths
While writing my last blog post I had another idea spurred by the need for an extended check out length for the business book bins. I realized (as I’m sure many of you have as well) that many different patrons read at different speeds and check out books and resources of varying degrees of length and difficulty. Not only that but, many patrons are working on research projects that might take longer than the standard the 2 weeks or 3 weeks that a library assigns to all of its books. The problem here is that we have invented one sized shoe in a world where people have different sized feet. But what if the patron could decide what sized shoe they wear? Or, what I really mean is, what if the patron could decide what length of checkout their items had?

I feel like this would be fairly simple to accomplish in many libraries. Basically when a patron checks out an item they would type in their preferred due date. They could choose however long that they figured it would take them to read the book or finish their project. Of course, I suppose some limits should be set. I wouldn’t want someone checking out a book for a hundred years or anything but I would love to see the length of time be set to something much longer than it currently is.

It seems like this would solve a lot of problems. In this system, since the patrons pre-determined their own due date they could remember it better and not have that argument at the counter about not remembering when their books were due. They would also be able to have the item for the length of time that they need it and they couldn’t complain about not having enough time to finish it or their project. It would also mean that when there are holds on the item (thus negating the option for renewals) the patrons could still have the time to do what they need to do.

In contrast to a no fines system
One of the other solutions is a no-fine system. Well, yeah right! Try to get that to fly with budgets being so tight and cities thinking that library fines are a money making system to supplement their new crosswalk project. I think that no-fine systems are good for a number of reasons, but in real-life I have seen some problems arise that I won’t take the time to outline here. So, I would think that we could still issue daily overdue fines and fees as a way to get materials returned, but patrons would have more power over their charges and I’m always for power to the people.

The Big Problem
The most glaring obvious problem here is the circulation software. This option is definitely not set-up in the software for patrons so I doubt this idea has any real legs to run on. Maybe some of you out there can get someone to try it out at your library? I don’t know, that’s a vendor fight that we would never win, but if anyone wants to take it on, be my guest.

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12 thoughts on “What If Patrons Decide Their Own Due Dates?

  1. I think Sean Reinhart at Hayward Library has something similar. His is more like a rental program. Pay ahead of time for a number of titles instead of paying afterward in fines. You could tweak it where people paid ahead of time and then keep the book as long as they wanted (with either the library purchasing another copy after a certain point, or a 90 day limit afterwhich the patron could be blocked).

  2. I see definite advantages to the patron-generated-due date.
    Here are my two thoughts about this:

    1. I’m an LIS student at the University of Washington and the lending period for materials from the UW Library is SO LONG! I can keep the book for 10-12 weeks, I think. This is really convenient because I am actually using the books all quarter. However, if someone else puts a hold on that book, we get an email saying, “hey are you almost done? take another week and bring the book back for someone else!” Well, it says it better than that, but you know what I mean. I don’t have a problem with this method of lending! I’m happy to give up a book if someone else needs it.

    2. When I borrow ebooks from the public library, I can choose the 7-day, 14-day or 21-day option. I really appreciate this because I don’t necessarily want to have books for longer than a week and sometimes I’d rather be able to check out MORE titles (because there’s a limit) for less time.

  3. We recently switched to an “end-of-semester” due date for all print materials here at Penn State (with recalls). It has worked out quite well for our students, and has simplified matters for our staff, now that faculty, staff, AND students now have a semester long loan period.

  4. As per the folks above (and my experience with most of the libraries at UCLA), this seems to be standard practice for academic libraries where books are generally more complex and needed for longer periods.

    In public libraries, there isn’t as much of a need for longer check-out limits as an auto-renewal system (an idea that has been thrown around by a number of lib bloggers). That would be good for the relatively few people (me being one of them) that occasionally use materials for longer than we ought to.

    As you mentioned, a major obstacle is software-related. Otherwise, after teaching staff/patrons the idea of choosing their own due dates (a wild proposition!), and deciding which materials will be eligible (I doubt most people need the Ice Age for more than a week), and the outer limits of due-date-selection, you’re good to go.

    But will people be able to renew items after reaching the limit of their selected date?

    1. Yeah Oleg, I think that an auto-renewal system would work out just as well. I just like the idea of giving patrons as much power as possible over the library materials they paid for and use. I also think that a standard default loan period could be used if none is selected so that only patrons who wanted to edit their due date could. I was wondering about renewal limits myself. As long as there is no hold, I don’t care whether or not they renew the items. It seems that letting them renew would be fine.

      1. Yes indeed. Power to the patrons. Quite right, quite right.

        Two comments:
        1) Renewals increase circ stats and we like to keep circ stats high so when they’re quoted out-of-context in the paper (or on some popular columnist’s blog) they’ll still boggle the mind.

        2) When items stay out too long they are unavailable to browsing patrons. There’s been a lot of discussion about the value of browsing lately (mostly in relation to closed stacks (or remote storage) and digital systems). Some people say that browsing isn’t as important as other people claim. I’m with the other people, I like to keep items coming in as well as going out so I can see what’s up on the shelves if I’m not sure what to read or what’s available about a subject.

  5. Some people are mentioning University libraries and end of semester due dates. I think this is great! But there are no semesters at a public library 😦

    1. I guess the point I was making when I mentioned it was the fact that “long”-term due dates ARE feasible and successful in some situations. I guess if you think your library users are interested in longer check-out periods, you could ask them for an honest answer about length of time.

    2. Sure, public libraries have no “end of semester” but what prevents a public library from giving a patron a four-month due date (or longer!). Especially when materials can be recalled as necessary, this could work out quite well in public libraries as well as academic ones.

  6. The biggest issue I see with this in public libraries is the fact that they will either need to buy/lease more copies of bestsellers. Public libraries are all about making the wait for bestsellers as minimal as possible (some even shorter their regular checkout period for titles with a long waiting list). If patrons were able to choose their own due dates, public libraries would need to be willing to spend quite a bit of extra cash to do it.

    On the academic library side, I think semester checkouts are wonderful, with the opportunity for a recall after 1 month if it is requested by someone else.

  7. I work in the Children’s section of a public library, and we have these great “kits” on various topics that aren’t checked out very often. The people who do want them are usually homeschooling parents, and when they check them out, we often do let them set a due date that works – because no one else will usually want them. So it works fine in that situation only because the items in question don’t circulate very often.

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