Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Setting the rules

I would describe my relationship to my library's rules, its policies and procedures, as mercurial. And also disciplined. It is freewheeling and calculating, respectful and rogue. You know, complicated.

Here, let's take a look at a recent incident. Perhaps it can shed some light.

A woman approaches me at the front desk of the library. She has a DVD that she has requested. It's a full season of a TV show. "I might be at my limit." She says. "Can I see if I can check this out?" I run her card and try to check the item out. No. She has exceeded her limits.

We don't have very strict limits at my library on the number of items one can have checked out. I would describe these limits as primarily designed to keep people from going off the rails. For instance one can only have 150 total items checked out at a time. This is a policy decision directly borne from our experience with people who get a little too obsessed with having as many items out as possible. It all has a way of accelerating to the limits, no matter how high those may be, and then exploding in a shower of lost books and massive fines. Our limit on DVDs is a very reasonable twenty out at one time. This woman has 20 DVDs currently out and wants a 21st.

A curious peculiarity of people who repeatedly have 20 DVDs out at a time is that they frequently favor a lot of TV shows. This brings up the interesting mathematical curiosity wherein they will be technically unable to watch all their discs during their check out period, even if they watch them unceasingly, without stopping to sleep.

She asked me if I could make an exception and check out this show she was waiting for.

I said no.

"No's" come in a lot of flavors. You have probably noticed this yourself in dealing with institutions and businesses. For instance there is my hundred percent "No". "No, I can't get you a library card without an I.D. with a verified address of some kind." This is a sound policy, and with an adult who wants a card I see no reason to get tricky with it. I also have a ten percent "No". "I can't renew your book for a third time." Which is almost invariably followed with "But seeing as no one is waiting for it and you really need it I'll do it this one time. You definitely won't be able to renew it again. This is an exception. And I will disclaim all knowledge of this incident should it come up." In this case the "no" is mostly in there to make the patron understand what's happening, understand our policy, and make sure they don't take it for granted. I don't hate our policy here, but I agree less and less with it the more we weed our overstuffed collection (relative to shelving space). But I do respect a certain consistency with the policy tools the front line staff work with.

So, back to that 21st DVD. When I say "no" it is an eighty percent "no". I think our policy is basically reasonable, and not a bad idea. This person knew the policy, and there is no real reason why she shouldn't work responsibly with it, which she already probably isn't by having a ridiculous 20 DVD sets checked out. On the other hand, who really cares? Who am I to judge her viewing habits and library collection fetish. Maybe she has some vaguely tolerable plea to make and I can let it go this time. I'm listening.

But there is no reasoned argument. She merely exclaims angrily "What?! Everyone else here lets me check out more!"

That seals it. My "no" shoots up to 100 percent like a bullet. It lodges so hard in the ceiling that I couldn't pry it out with a chisel.

She storms off in a huff. 

I'm not so pleased with her. I'm not too wild about these alleged co-workers who've indulged her either. But, at the moment, at least, I'm feeling pretty good about our policy.

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