Check It Out

The Denver Public Library closes the book on borrowing 1,000 items.

That feeling is presumably shared by the library's heaviest users, who want to keep their home shelves stocked as well. But with all those books comes the danger of late fees that can add up like numbers on a stock ticker if 300, 400 or even 1,000 titles become overdue at the same time, even for one day.

"We have had some incidents where its kind of gotten beyond someone's control," Hodapp says. "When that does occur, we try to be understanding and work something out. We're not a collections agency."

Certain to breathe more easily under the new policy are the library's circulation clerks, a group whose job sometimes entails long conversations with patrons who wish to renew vast numbers of books. Many frequent borrowers take advantage of the library's online renewal service, but even that is time-consuming, says clerk Diane Tobin.

Sam Turner

"I can't imagine sitting on that Web site, waiting for all of those renewals to process. It must be horrible," she says. "But I guess that must be the trade-off, the thing they know they have to do in order to continue using all of the materials. It just becomes part of the routine."

While the notion of any one person possessing hundreds and hundreds of things from the library conjures images of bookish eccentrics or pathological hoarders holed up in apartments surrounded by candles and cats, Hodapp and her staff paint a more reasonable picture of these serial borrowers.

"For the most part, it's professional people: academics, writers working on different projects," she says. "We get a lot of people writing novels or textbooks. We have a group of ladies in Cherry Creek who are putting together a cookbook, and they need so many different materials to research their own recipes and menus."

In many ways, the most active borrowers are the DPL's best customers. They have to be, Butler points out, lest they risk losing their borrowing privileges -- something that's tantamount to losing their lifelines. "People who are regular users don't want to jeopardize their access to the collection," she says. "I think many of them have very elaborate systems of checklists and things, to be sure that they remain in good standing."

"The surprising thing is that those people bring their books back in the best condition," says Tobin. "They really seem to take care and stay on top of what they've got. (Not all borrowers are so considerate: "We had one come back with a strip of bacon being used as a bookmark," Hodapp says.)

So far, response to the policy change has largely been, in true library spirit, quiet.

"I'm not aware of too many grumpy phone calls," says DPL spokeswoman Celeste Jackson. "In a public venue, you get them all. I know that Rick [Ashton, city librarian] got a letter from some people who weren't happy with the temperature of the water coming out of the drinking fountains. That kind of thing is just par for the course."

"I think the library did a good job of sort of preempting any negative reaction," adds Tobin. "They let the people who might be the most affected know that they'd need to get ready to pack up their trucks. Or maybe their U-Hauls."

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