Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Postage

Alane organized a day of discussion with some state library folks today, along the lines of branding and marketing.

Here's what floored me, as we talked: Libraries in their area were NOT doing ILL because of the cost of postage. That's right--POSTAGE.

Is this a standard worry in libraries today? Only in small libraries? Large libraries? Do you not turn on resource sharing for your end-users because you are worried about the costs to-and-fro?

In today's information economy, postage seems like the lousiest reason in the world to not get information to the people who need it. But in today's economic reality, our conversation today made me realize that this is the world that some (a lot?) of libraries live in.

What's it like in your library? Is this isolated or normal?

11 comments:

Jessamyn said...

all the tiny libraries that I work with here (six or seven) do ILL for free and just eat the postage, a lot of which gets reimbursed form the state. If someone needs something super esoteric that is out of state they may be asked to chip in.

A lot of the local resource sharing out here doesn't go in the mail at all though, people just drive the books back and forth if the library is relatively close by.

Cathy said...

Oh of course it happens. My second job out of school (which was quite a while ago) the director didn't want us to do ILL for anyone outside rather large city we worked in. I pointed out that some of the larger resarch libraries we relied upon might get a bit annoyed if we sent them nothing and he expanded our service area to the entire state.

And don't get me started on student ILL.

I didn't stay there long.

Rosario said...

Yes, indeed, this is a worry. If you have a tiny budget to begin with and shipping costs (either through the regular USPS or through something like FedEx or UPS) take a big (big being relative) chunk out of it, you start to seriously reconsider this whole "resource sharing" thing. It's fine for us to say that we should be doing it for the greater good, etc., but economic realities have a way of keeping your feet grounded. That's my two cents worth.

Mary Beth said...

Postage can very definitely be an issue. My small library in Nebraska was spending close to $500 a year in postage for ILL. While that doesn't sound like a lot, for a small library, that's a pretty big chuck of the budget, if you're not prepared.

Luckily, one of the heaviest users of ILL for the library was one of the City Council members, so when I asked for a budget increase for that line it was immediately approved.

Michelle said...

This is an issue even for large libraries. I manage an interlibrary loan department in a large urban library. Postage is a huge concern. Yes, most of the cost of resource sharing is in the staff but staff and everything else are separate line items at most libraries. Staff we have; it's a fight to get more money for anything else.

Imp said...

In one place I worked - large urban system - they did away with charging the customer for postage or ILL service - in some cases lenders charge for using their materials and they had been passing those fees along to the borrower. I'm not sure why they did away with the fees but maybe because the total amount for that service was not worth the staff time & effort to collect the fees? Not sure.

In my current system, we charge $2 per item to cover the postage. I am a serious ILL'er and yes, I have to pay the fee though I am on staff. I guess a fee of this size would discourage folks from requesting materials that they will not pick up for check-out. Although, we charge the fee on the check-out end of the transaction.

Laura said...

My system, like Imp's, also charges $2 an item for ILLs (out of county or out of state--in county loans are free, and we mostly drive those from place to place) to cover the cost of postage. In my dream world, we wouldn't charge, but postage costs, even at library rate, can add up. Driving things around in the county is doable (especially from my town, where we often have to drive to the next town to get groceries anyway), but driving things across state wouldn't be possible.

Alice said...

Man, it's the little things that get you every time, huh? It's easy to lose sight of things like postage, or having a fast enough internet connection, or big enough signage, or easy-to-find bathrooms that would keep your library at "good" instead of "great" service. I guess the lesson to me is, take nothing for granted!!

Alice said...

(And to look at the entire customer experience--even at the links leading into your site or the parking lot/walkway people take to enter the physical building!)

Michael A. Golrick said...

It is a huge issue in libraries at both ends of the spectrum. This is especially true in a climate where the Library's budget in nominal dollars has not changed in the past three years (oh, like mine), and all your other costs....including postage....have risen, often dramatically. Is it good for the patron? No, and it is great that states like Vermont (see Jessamyn's comment) will reimburse the postage. As long as we are dealing with physical items (like through the rest of my career), this will be a concern.

Anonymous said...

Having been an ILL librarian for five years in a medium-sized PL, and now doing ILL in a community college library, money spent on postage has always been a concern.

As cheap as the USPS Media Mail service is, I have had many items damaged or lost via that method; if an item is particularly expensive or "irreplacable", I will only send them via a tracked and insured method, such as UPS or FedEx. If UPS or FedEx would offer me a great rate to ship all of my items with them, I would sign up. The extra bit of money would be worth it for the peace of mind, and knowing that I will get paid for items that they damage or lose, instead of getting my items back in a baggy with a "We're sorry." sticker...or not at all.