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“Dear Librarian— “

August 20, 2012

The envelope was addressed to “The Librarian of City Library, Salida, Colorado,” and it was postmarked at Lamar, Colo., 7 PM, Sep 15, 1937.

“Dear Librarian—

“At the risk of seeming officious I wish to tell you that Mrs. XYZ who has recently moved to your city checked out a new book—Not so deep as a well by Dorothy Parker—from this library and never returned it although I wrote to her many times asking her to do so.

“Her husband is manager of your picture show as he was here, they lived very near the library and passed often and I can see no legitimate reason for her keeping the book.

“As I would have appreciated any one warning me as to her type, I am taking the liberty of warning you.

“The book was checked out April 3, 37 and they left here the latter part of August.

“Yours very truly,
Mrs. ABC”

This came out of the library archives, now being resorted after the remodel. I changed the names to protect the innocent.

The delivery address is noteworthy for its sufficiency: The letter was delivered. This may have been facilitated by Mrs. ABC’s lovely handwriting.

I like the writing of the date atop the letter: Sept. 15 “ 1937. The two little slashes on the scale of quotation marks are quaint, even exotic, in an age of little grammar and forgotten punctuation.

That it was a Dorothy Parker book may say more about Mrs. XYZ than the fact that it was unreturned. Or maybe, the one is a sign of the other! She was a “type,” after all.

We certainly still have people who leave town with our books and DVDs, and even people who stay in town without returning library materials. For many, the pain of not being able to check out from the library again is apparently not very great.

So we can revoke their privileges, but that doesn’t get the library stuff back. This fall, we will conduct a trial with a collection agency that works specifically and solely with libraries.

Basically, after 60 days of notifications from us, accounts owing over a certain amount will be turned over to the collection agency, which will follow up with 120 days of letters and phone calls in an attempt to get materials back and the accounts settled.

After six months of trying, the delinquent accounts may be reported to credit agencies.

On the one hand, it feels like a harsh new face for the library. On the other, how many thousands of dollars worth of unreturned (some would say stolen) public property should be considered acceptable?

We recognize that mistakes happen on both sides of the desk. We should be sufficiently settled into our new system and our remodeled routines to make a reliable test of the collection service this Fall.

Six months of trying seems a reasonable buffer against mistakes, such that if there is a mistake on an account, we have plenty of time to sort it out. The library will retain ultimate control of the accounts, not the collection agency.

If you stick a dollar in a book to cover fines and we don’t see it, you won’t simply slide into a Kafkaesque nightmare of faceless bureaucracy.

And, if you were the one who stuck the little bag of marijuana in the boxed edition of the movie “Slackers,” perhaps to cover a fine, we did miss it. The next person to watch the movie returned it with the bag still inside but wanted us to know the marijuana wasn’t hers.


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