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Library Computer May Be Calling You

Sonora, CA — Did you ever wish that you´d gotten just a simple phone call, reminding you that a library book was due? A call that would save you a little embarrassment, and a few bucks besides?

Tuolumne County Library patrons don´t have to wish any longer. A new automated telephone system that´s now in use reminds them when books are due, and provides several additional services. The system serves all branches of the library system as well as the main library in Sonora.

“We now notify borrowers when their requests are available for pickup, or that they have books due for return,” said Connie Corcoran, Director of Library Services. “The system will also allow them to make renewals, to request books or other items and to check the status of their accounts, around the clock, seven days a week. It´s a lot more than a tool for getting books back on time.”

Corcoran expects that in addition to getting books back more quickly for use by others, the library will reduce its postage costs – about $4,000 last year — and other expenses related to sending notices, while patrons will pay less in overdue charges. Fines and fees have totaled about $25,000 in recent years, Corcoran said. She expressed confidence that cost savings and improved access to books will more than offset any drop in income.

The automated request and notification system is part of a recent computer upgrade. It cost $17,850.

Calls to those with overdue books will go out promptly.

“We are notifying borrowers on the first day that a book is late and offering to waive the late charge if the book is returned within two days of the due date,” Corcoran said. If books are not returned during the grace period, late charges will be calculated from the due date.

Before the new system was in place, the library waited until a book was 14 days overdue to mail a notice. Most people return their items within that period without a reminder, but those who didn´t typically owed $5 per item – the maximum fee before bills are sent for items not returned.

Here´s how the notification system works: If a book is overdue, or an item is available for pickup, an automated call is placed. If a person answers, or an answering machine picks up, the spoken message is given. A person on the receiving end of a notification call can´t communicate with the computer, but borrowers are invited to call the regular library number, 533-5507, if they have questions.

For persons who want to access the menu of services that´s available, a new telephone number, 533-1468, will connect them to the new system.

Here are the services people may use on the automated menu:

• Renew all items that are eligible (some restrictions apply).

• Receive a list of titles they have checked out and their due dates.

• Receive a list of their current requests, or they may cancel an earlier request.

• Receive a report on their current late charges.

• Receive a list of their current overdue items.

• Listen to a library message (branch hours, branch phone number, etc.)

Persons calling in are instructed to enter the bar code number from the back of their library cards and following that a personal ID number (PIN). which is the last four digits of their home telephone number, unless they have chosen another number. They then may select from the numbered menu of services.

“The new number will be useful when the library is closed or when lines are busy,” Corcoran said. “During library hours, patrons may always try the regular library number to speak to a live staff member. It will be important for people to realize these are two completely different phone lines for different purposes.”

Automated calls to borrowers are made between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. daily, including Sundays and holidays. If the first call is not answered, by a person or an answering machine, or if the line is busy, a second call is made in two hours. If that fails, a third call is made two hours after the second. If the third call is not picked up by a person or a machine, a written notice is sent.

Because the automated system can´t recognize when an answering machine greeting has ended, the recorded message is repeated twice. The system will not make toll calls or calls outside the county. Those areas will get written notifications. Corcoran said the library staff will welcome comments from borrowers to help improve the new service. She also said that borrowers have the option to request “no telephone notification” by contacting a staff member at their branch.