NOLS board suspends collection fees for 2020

Decision was an unanimous vote

PORT ANGELES — Along with books, DVDs, magazines and other items, Clallam County libraries are putting collection fees on hold.

Trustees with the North Olympic Library System agreed last week to suspend collection of fees from materials deemed lost for the remainder of the year.

“The staff has a lot to do already,” Jennifer Pelikan, NOLS board chair, said before the unanimous 4-0 vote Aug. 27.

“I would much rather have them spend their time on that than taking money from people.”

Library Director Noah Glaude said collection of fees from unreturned materials was shut down — along with all other library services — in mid-March as state and local health officials began to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

In late August, overdue notices began to go out to patrons who had materials checked out prior to the March 17 shutdown, Glaude said.

“We have seen quite an uptick in return in the last week,” Glaude said at the Aug. 27 meeting held on Zoom.

Typically patrons receive bills through the mail 21 days after items are overdue, but that notice generally is designed to encourage the patron to return the item, Glaude said.

“We just want our books back so the next patron can check them out,” he said.

Twenty-one days after the paper bill is sent, a collection agency that NOLS has a contract with begins attempting to secure funds owed.

The agency collects $10 from each item, Glaude said.

“Ten dollars isn’t necessarily a lot, but it can make a big difference in our patron’s life,” he said.

With the stress and unease surrounding COVID-19, Glaude said library officials expect more issues regarding unreturned materials. NOLS normally sees about eight to 10 items per month necessitate collection bills in the past year, he said.

Glaude originally asked the board of trustees to suspend fee collections through the month of September. Board members agreed to suspend the collection process for the remainder of 2020.

“All we want to do is get the materials back,” Glaude said.

New normal

Last week, Glaude detailed the various changes the libraries in Sequim, Port Angeles, Forks and Clallam Bay have made since the mid-March shutdown, including curbside service that started in June and, in July, NOLS began offering “grab bags” that feature staff-selected materials in patron-selected genres.

Influxes of new materials have kept coming in, he said, but he noted, “we’re able to move a lot of that through the grab bags.”

Glaude said NOLS is considering providing curbside printing services as well. The printing — for items such as job applications or copies of one’s insurance card — would probably be offered for free with a monthly cap to keep services cashless.

He also said the library system is considering checking out laptops on an hourly-use basis.

“We know there’s a great need out there for computer and internet access,” Glaude told trustees.

Outreach to the Homebound, a NOLS program in which staffers deliver materials to those unable to access the library (when open) or curbside service, should start up again soon, Glaude said, with staffers leaving items on doorsteps in order to maintain physical distance.

Inter-library loans should start up once again soon, he added.

Modifications

Each library is preparing modified curbside services in anticipation of wetter, colder weather.

Forks Library’s building, a converted bank, will adapt easily with a sliding window for book returns and a second for pickups, Glaude said. Clallam Bay’s library will use a window along one of the building’s sides. The Port Angeles library will add some boxes rigged up on furniture dollies for drop-offs.

The Sequim Library, however, presents a challenge. Staff have been putting up and taking down pop-up tents each work day, but that won’t work in inclement weather, Glaude said.

“It definitely presents a lot of problem-solving opportunities,” he said last week. “Emily (Sly, the Sequim Library manager) is on it. We’ll get something figured out in the next couple of weeks.”

Patron visits

The Sequim Branch saw more patron “visits” in June (1,382) and July (4,121) than the other three NOLS branches combined (1,397 in June, 3,333 in July).

Sequim patrons also had the most material checkouts with 2,372 in June and 11,570 in July, with Port Angeles Library patrons checking out 2,043 items in June and 8,796 in July.

NOLS added 90 new patrons in June and another 108 in July.

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