[Michlib-l] Books By Mail Responses

Jennifer Noble jnoble at adrian.lib.mi.us
Fri Sep 25 10:50:15 EDT 2020

Hello all,

I recently sent a message out asking for information on starting a books by
mail service and promised to compile the responses I received, so I'm
keeping my word! Responses are pasted below and attached as a Word doc.

*Bloomfield Township PL:* We do offer Library by Mail.  It has been a
program  here now for about 10 years, or so.  Wow, time flies!  Anyways,
when a staff member speaks to a patron, and the patron indicates that they
have issues coming into the library, or if they have had surgery or if
their neighbor will be in to pick up the item or just about any other
indicator that we pick up on, we offer our library by mail program.

1.        An application is filled out by a staff member, could be a
circulation clerk or a youth or adult services librarian.

2.       Application is verified.  If this is a long standing patron, with
a library card, the application is sent to circ for updating.  If this is a
new patron a Pledge of Responsibility is sent out, and upon return a
library card is created.

3.       A letter is sent to the patron welcoming them to the program.
This letter also has the rules,  ie. Only items that fit in the bag will be
sent, no MelCat requesting, and some other things.

4.       Patron items are collected to be sent out either by patrons
calling in or on a continuing basis i.e. they like certain authors and we
send the books out upon return of the last books sent.

5.       We send audio books, DVDs, music cds, magazines, large print, just
about everything.

We have bags in two sizes.  A pocket is on the outside of the zippered bag,
and the address postcard goes in that.  The patron turns it over and sends
it back.  All postage is prepaid.  We put a small zip tie on each bag when
sent out, and we include one for the journey back to our library.  We
purchased our bags from Janway.

We have had a few  lost items in the mail, and a couple times an audio book
cd has been left behind.  We just call and ask them to include it in the
next shipment.  The mail has been running slow here, and a new LBM patron
was calling us daily looking for an answer about her items.  It took about
a week or more for the items to arrive, and now we tell new patrons, things
may be slow.

Also, I try to go through all the applications twice a year to make sure
our patrons are still with us.  This can be a sad task.  I search for
obituaries, home sales on Zillow and look for them in Reference USA, and I
make lots of phone calls to make sure they still need the service.
Sometimes a patron moves, and that is okay.  I did a check after our Stay
Home Stay Safe order was lifted, and we had lost four patrons during that
three month period.  You just want to keep up with it.

If you have any other questions let me know.  I’ll help if I can.

*Roseville PL:* 1. How have you implemented this service, either now or
historically? Do you only ship books/audiobooks, or do you allow other
materials to circ?  We created an "outreach" profile for "Materials by
Mail" patrons which automatically gives a four-week due date when we check
out our materials on these cards instead of the normal three weeks or one
week.   The extra week is for time to go back and forth in the U.S. mail,
however we should consider adding more time because it takes considerably
more time for the bags to go through the mail now.  We arranged to have our
local post office charge the postage to the patron and back to our Business
Reply Mail account.  Patrons who become Outreach patrons must figuratively
give up their regular "public profile" card and may only check out
materials through the MbyM program.  They may not place holds on materials
owned by other libraries and may not just walk in and use the library.
This is due to the four-week checkout provided by their outreach profile.
We will lend any materials they want from our collection excluding new and
in-demand fiction and new movies which only circulate for one week.  We set
up their outreach account my asking them questions by phone about their
taste in materials and the information is kept in their file.  Each time
they check out materials they receive a receipt which lists the
authors/titles and due dates of the materials in the bag and a comment
sheet that allows them to rate the materails we sent.  They are very
honest!  The comment sheet helps the librarian to make selections for the
patron going forward.  The patron determines how many items they want and
how frequently.  We often send our most recent print calendar of events
with information about upcoming programs and flyers/brochures about new
services or collections.  We think this helps our outreach patrons to feel
more connected to the library.  The librarian in charge of MbyM gets to
know her clients and often sends them the free magazines the library
recieves each month (Senior Living, Macomb Now, BookPage (free to patrons,
paid by the library), bookmarks and leftover take and make crafts if they
are interested.

2. Do you require your patrons to certify their disability, and if so,
why?  We do not require any formal information regarding their disability
or reason for requesting Materials by Mail.  We take their word.  Patrons
use the service for many reasons and normally offer their reason without an
inquiry by the librarian:  long-term disability, short-term disability,
recent surgery and general concerns about coming to the library due to
advanced age.

3. Do you use cloth or plastic reusable mailers?  We use rectangular cloth
bags with zippers and a plastic pocket for the address card.  The patron's
address is written on one wide of a manilla cardboard card and a label with
the library's address is on the opposite side.  The patron is supposed to
flip the piece of cardboard when they return the bag, however the postal
employees normally know where to send the bag even if the patron did not
flip the card.  Our library is in a City of approximately 48,000 residents.

4. Where did you get those mailers?  We originally purchased the cloth
zippered mailers from A. Rifkin Company, ariftin.com, but have also priced
other companies.  The Rifkin bags have held up for over twenty years.

At any one time we may have 10 or so residents using the program.  This is
a very small number considering the population of Roseville.  However it is
fortunate the number is small because each bag of materials costs between
$4 and $11 to mail one way, depending upon weight.  If the program becomes
more popular, money would have to be shifted from another account to the
postage account.  Selecting, mailing, updating files and checking in
returned materials is time-consuming, but the librarians generally enjoy
handling outreach and they enjoy talking to the patrons.

Best of luck with your service.

*East Lansing PL:* We are only sending our materials at this time. We just
rejoined MeL last week, as we’re having real trouble getting borrowed items
back to their home libraries. At this point I’d hesitate on sending MeL
items through the mail, as it would just be another layer of complication
until we get that straightened out.

I would not decline a request for AV materials, but we’re trying to focus
on books. The processing & shipping time (both ways) for AV materials would
mean they’d almost always exceed their loan period. We decided to call it
Books by Mail to emphasize print materials.

We’re not limiting who can participate. We’re using language to gear the
program towards people with mobility issues, but we’re not checking IDs or
asking for further information.

We’re allowing each patron one “order” at a time. Order size is somewhat
limited by our bags (more on that later). Many of the patrons who use our
system are doing so on behalf of an older relative, so we often get basic
requests like “send Westerns” so we’ll send what will fit.

Correct, we’re not using “books by mail” as a pickup location in our
catalog. We’d like patrons to sign up first, so we know where & to whom the
books should be sent. We just put a note in our ILS saying that our patron
is using Books by Mail, & we have the specific for each patron saved
separately. I think adding a pickup location in our catalog would just
cause confusion and/or abuse of the system. We’re happy to sign up anyone,
but we want to make sure they understand (or at least read about) the
intention of the program first. Having said that, we are about to add two
new location codes. We’ve never had options before, so I think there will
be a learning curve for all of us!

We do have our own postage meter. As our building is closed, it’s really
nice to have a postage meter so we don’t have to wait in line at the post
office. We’re pre-paying the return postage, so patrons just have to flip
the address label over & send it back to us (I’ll post a link later). I
inherited the materials from my predecessor, so I’m not exactly sure where
they came from. If I had to start all over again, I’d choose different
bags. The labels from our postage meter do not fit in the window for the
address label on the bag. Also, our bags are rather small – we can only fit
2-3 books in them, tops. If you wanted “War and Peace” it would barely fit.
I would get larger bags with the correct window size. Our bags also have
the “cut out window”. This might make it a little easier to get the
shipping label in and out, but I worry that the label might get ripped.
Fortunately, that hasn’t happened yet.

Overall, it’s going well. AFAIK we’ve never offered this service before, so
patrons are very happy just to get books. Most people who are getting books
for relatives are also glad that we can choose or recommend titles, so
we’re really providing two services at once.

*Clinton-Macomb PL:* The Clinton Macomb Public library just started a
Library by Mail service. It was in the works pre-Covid, and soft-launched
in July, with an announcement in our fall newsletter to our whole service
area. We ship books, audiobooks, CDs and DVDs. If someone requested only LT
books, we would refer them to our County-Macomb Library for the Blind and
Physically handicapped.

[Do patrons have to certify disability?] No.  Just that they can’t get to
the library.

[Cloth or plastic mailers?] Cloth.

[Where did you get mailers?] A Rifkin, trans-sac; I think we bought a Nylon

And finally, a link from a listserv member to a library that they know
about in Florida that provides this service:

Thanks again to everyone who responded! If anyone else has anything to
contribute, I'm happy to take more answers!

Happy Friday,
Jennifer Noble (she/her/hers)
Adult & Teen Services Librarian
Adrian District Library
143 E. Maumee St.
Adrian, MI 49221
jnoble at adrian.lib.mi.us
(517) 265-2265
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