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Loss and Damage

February 15, 2002

This issue has come up a half-dozen times since the holidays. Let’s talk about it.

The Salida Regional Library charges for lost or damaged items. As someone whose puppy enjoys the taste of a new bestseller, you might be financially annoyed by this policy. As a taxpayer, though, I should think you would applaud it.

The reasons for damage or loss are manifold; the accounting options are few. The library is responsible for managing public property. If a library item is lost or damaged beyond repair, the responsible party must settle up.

Does anyone think this is unreasonable? Enough people bristle at the charges that I remain open to cogent arguments against it.

One recent incident saw a patron return a dog-chewed book. It was a paperback that had been re-bound for additional sturdiness. The patron was incensed at the charge, which included the binding cost, plus our $5.00 processing fee.

In the end, the patron paid and took possession of the damaged book, which is always the option. Upon taking it, the patron expressed disgust that all the thirteen dollars bought was this dog-chewed book.

I don’t know what to say about this. The dog-chewed book was not good enough for the patron at that price, but it was good enough for other library users.

My point is not to mock this sentiment; unexpected expenses are annoying. While I like for people to think of the library as their own, it is important that everyone understand it is shared, as well. If you break a neighbor’s tool, you replace it.

Here’s our policy, and it is fairly accommodating. I plan on proposing an even simpler rule, but this is the current one. Charges for damage that we decide can be reasonably repaired are my decision. One must appeal to me as dictator, but I’m a benevolent one.

For lost items, the charge is simple: the library’s replacement cost plus five dollars processing. In many cases, this adds up to less than our old policy.

First, charging our replacement cost lets us pass on any discounts we might get, although we don’t always get them. If the item is out of print, our replacement cost may be high or low depending on the market, and so this cost is passed on to the responsible party.

Second, the five dollars is a much better approximation of the cost to the library for sending overdue notices, finding and ordering a replacement, receiving and re-cataloging the new item, and covering or otherwise processing the item for library use.

For magazines, the charge is cover price plus two dollars. One might object, since many subscriptions can be had at a fraction of the cover price, but the fact is that most of the time we can not obtain a replacement. Our subscription agency maintains a very useful Missing Copy Bank, but even with that, most missing issues are gone forever.

So, although this might seem punitive, we hope it will also be preventive. If one has lost a magazine issue and can find another copy, we will be happy to accept it.

Be forewarned: The charges for lost interlibrary loan items are set by the lending library. And if that library is an academic one, it is likely the charge will be a set price, and high, possibly fifty or one hundred dollars, regardless of the title or edition.

We’re not being mean; we’re being responsible. I hope you’ll see the difference.

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