Table of Contents
Sandra Card, California State University, Los Angeles
Heidi Lauritzen, Iowa City Public Library
This session described implementation of circulation notices via email from the perspectives of a small academic library, a large academic library, and a very busy public library. The questions answered included: why each site implemented the circulation notices via email module, implementation experiences, and patron response.
Valparaiso University Experience
Valparaiso decided to implement the email module in order to improve the image of the library with students and faculty. Students expect online services, but had an image of libraries as old-fashioned. The library needed to be up-to-date in using the method of communication that students prefer and expect. The email method allows easier communication with students after they leave campus, and is a faster means of delivery than regular mail. They anticipated savings in staff time, postage, paper and printer supplies.
The steps taken to implement started with modifying the staff logon. The email function needs to be turned on. Valpo found that the full name parameter for their staff login had never been changed from [III staff] and updated it to read [Moellering Library Staff]. The reply to and source addresses need to be set.
A big challenge at Valpo was getting email addresses into patron records. They loaded addresses for freshmen from the Registrar's database, but many addresses weren't current. They verified email addresses at freshman orientation. To solicit email addresses from faculty, staff and more students, a global message was sent on the campus email system. Replies to that message went to an email box shared by the circulation staff, who cut and pasted the correct email address from the reply to the correct patron record on the INNOPAC.
Valpo required few policy changes to implement email notification. Patrons can use either their campus email address or another email account, or both. The field allows multiple email addresses, separated by a comma. Replies to email notices are currently going to the Head Circulation Manager, but will soon be changed to the shared staff email box. Their law library opted out of email notification at first because of staff turnover. They will begin using the service this year.
Response has been uniformly positive among staff, students and faculty, if low-key.
California State University, Los Angeles
Cal State, LA implemented email notification in order to reduce postage costs, to save staff time, and to provide a service users were bound to like. Library staff determined that the service would pay for itself within 18 months.
The patron data load was quite complex. The library used three sources for email addresses and had to jump a number of hoops to obtain these. The Registrar's office required the library to fill out confidentiality forms. IT determined that only the campus email address could be used. Since many students prefer their own off-campus addresses and check these more regularly, this was a problem. Fortunately, students can forward their email to other addresses.
When addresses come back as bad they are deleted from the record and notices are sent in paper format instead. Bills are still sent in paper format. An unexpected problem is that email addresses are reused so soon after students leave campus that sometimes the library runs into duplicates and emails have gone to the wrong person. At the end of each semester Sandra must create a review file and delete the email field, then reload a fresh set of addresses from IT. There is no other way to determine records to delete of people who are no longer on campus.
Iowa City Public Library
The decision to go with email notification was determined in 1998 when ICPL decided to purchase the III Millennium system. Expected savings on postage, paper costs, and staff labor were reasons for the purchase of this option as part of the total system package.
ICPL began collecting email addresses several months before the process was implemented. Staff continue to add email to new patrons, and during the annual verification process with existing patrons. After a year using email notification 32% of all overdue notices and 49% of all hold notices go by email.
With the implementation of the Innovative system and relatively easy patron placed hold function, holds have increased significantly, and email has helped staff to deal with this extra load. While email notification has saved some staff time, it has also created some new tasks. There have been enough changes that staff training was somewhat of an issue.
The notice message was changed from asking patrons to bring the notice with them to pick up their hold (so as to not make them print out the email message) to asking patrons to bring the notice OR their library card.
ICPL decided to verify hold notices against items awaiting hold processing because of experience with notices going out to patrons and items not being on the hold shelf. To create this verification process the first time the hold notice is run staff print notices to the screen, but do not complete the notification transaction so that notices can be rerun after verification.
Two staff are assigned to look at bounced email. The bounced message is printed and sent. A message is placed in the patron record to check the email address the next time the patron is in.
As a policy matter ICPL does not add email addresses to the records of children under 16. While family email addresses can be used, staff alert patrons to the confidentiality concern, but most patrons do not care.
Publicity included in-house posters and bookmarks, articles about the new service in the library newsletter and in a community newspaper. Other service desks in the library also alert patrons of the service.
Patron response has been uniformly positive. It improves communication with patrons, and generates requests for even more personalized services.