Dump the Org Chart – Get ‘er done!

Posted on September 29, 2007. Filed under: administration, holds, Library 2.0, mail |

Gina Millsap, Executive Director of Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library and I presented a SirsiDynix webinar last week titled Dump the Org Chart – Get ‘er done!  I plan to address a number of the questions we received on this blog.


Much like in our real life, we got a lot of questions about our process of mailing holds to people and how we do it.  Here is a little history and answers to some of the most common questions.


Over 20 years ago our library was doing some parking lot reconfiguration which made it difficult to visit the library.  We have bookmobiles but don’t have branches. Staff determined that it was better customer service to mail the books to the customer rather than have them fight around the construction.  It has become one of the most loved services we provide. 


We used to do this manually – don’t ask!  I’m showing my age when I can remember pre-automation days.


Customers place a hold on an item.


Checked in items


A list is printed and staff check the shelves daily. 


Checked out items


A hold is triggered when the item returns and is checked in. 


Customers have the option to pick up the item or to have it mailed.


We call them for items to be picked up and handle them much like everyone else.


For the mail items, it is checked out to the customer – if other holds have been triggered for the customer, we attempt to gather them at the same time so that they can be mailed together.  A label is produced. The items are bagged, labeled, postage applied and the bag is sealed.


 We have recently changed our postage procedures by working with the US Post office to do pre-sorting, which provides us with some savings in postage.  It is our understanding that we may be the first institution to do this with library rate, so it took some work, but I think we actually have a system that is working well.  I won’t go into postage details here, but can put you in touch with our staff if you are interested.


Customers are responsible for the return of mailed items.  They can be returned through our drop boxes, at the library, mailed back to us at their expense, etc.


That is how it works in a simplified version.


Some questions we get regularly:


Do you charge the customer for this?  No.  It results in a fairly high postage line item in the budget.  We do not have branches, so it is much cheaper than building and maintaining a branch.  It is fantastic PR.  It is probably the number one mentioned service that our customers love about us.  While we could charge for the service and may have to sometime in the future, we strongly feel that would be a deterrent to using the service.  Reasonable arguments could be made for charging.  At this point, we are strongly focusing on developing our digital branch.  If people are using the digital branch to access our library it seems to fit into the current trends to mail items to them.  It is in line with mail-order catalogs, Netflix, Amazon, etc.


Wouldn’t it be cheaper to have customers pick up the items?  We have not studied the cost comparisons recently, but with the changes in postage processes, need to do that.  In the past, while mailing has more obvious direct costs, the amount of staff time handling the phone holds, shelving and unshelving those that aren’t picked up and the number that sit for five days on the shelf, essentially not available, have a cost as well.  It is a more hidden cost, but as we ask staff to do more and more, the amount of time they spend on a task becomes important. 


Do things get damaged in the mail?  Sometimes.  This has not been a large problem.  We use the padded bags and rarely is something damaged in the mail.  We do not hold the customer responsible for the damage if we can determine that it happened during mailing.  For example:  they return a very wet book.  It hasn’t rained since we mailed the book – we probably would question that it happened in the mail!  The bag usually protects the book from a normal rain.  Media goes through the mail just fine.


Do you have a lot of lost items?  Not really.  Once in a while something just never gets delivered.  Generally, it has been because they live in an apartment building or someplace where the mailbox won’t hold a typical book sized package.  Something left against the wall in the hallway is apt to disappear.  We may not be able to mail to them if that is the case.  Most of the time things arrive and in good shape.  We will take their word for it the first time they claim something doesn’t arrive and forgive the item.  If it becomes a repeat excuse, we stop mailing to them. 


Does the mail take a long time out of their checkout period?  We have a 21 day loan period.  Library rate can be delayed if the post office has too much first class, but typically in our area things arrive in 1-2 days.  Unless a holiday is involved 3-4 days delivery is the most we see.  Basically, the loss of a few days in checkout is a cost to them for the convenience of having it mailed.


You may have other questions about this service.  Please let us know.


I plan to begin addressing other questions from the webinar in the next few days.


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