Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Why bring your books back on time?

For various reasons I've been thinking lately about Library fines, and what affect they have on Library user behaviour. Now this is outside of my main work area, but being the curiously minded soul that I am I kept thinking about this. I came up with an idea from scratch, that is partially inspired by the University of Westminster blocking scheme (item 3.3 on this pdf), and partially by the chapter in Freakonomics that deals with fining parents who are late picking up their kids from nursery.

Blocks I'm instinctively wary of, because although they're a very transparent system, the results are pretty harsh. In Freakonomics, it was posited that the fines just make parents feel less bad about being late, rather than making them more likely to turn up on time. I wanted to find a system that gave an incentive for good behavior that people might respond to, and that also gave enough disincentive to bring things back late repetitively.

This is my own work - if you know of a Library that operates a system like this, please let me know! I'm also aware that this idea might sound completely mad. Comments welcome!

Library borrowing allowance. There are 3 principles:

1. A user starts the year with allowance to borrow XX number of books.

2. The allowance improves by +1 for every book returned on time.
        o There is a maximum allowance. Good library users will quickly reach this maximum.

3. The allowance decreases -1 for every day a book is late.
        o Minimum allowance of 1 book loan, which allows all users to rebuild their allowance.

The incentive is therefore clear – if you bring books back late, you’ll be seriously restricted in your borrowing ability until to start bringing books back on time again. Think of it like a credit score, except it’s really simple to understand what affects the score, and really easy to improve it if goes down.

I like this idea for the following reasons:

· Rewards-based, not punishment-based incentive to respect the system.
· Does punish the worst offenders the most – lengthier overdues cause bigger loan allowance reductions.
· Normal behaviour has little affect on the balance. Only the worst breaches will drag a balance down to the minimum.
· Restoring the balance gets easier with each successful return as you have the potential to double your borrowing power, rewarding good behaviour.
· Removes the perception that the Library punishes late returns to make money.
· Removal of cash transactions from the service point.
· Level playing field for rich and poor students.
· Different loan types could be set to affect the allowance more than others – for example, shorter loan types could count double.

Possible problems:
· I don’t know of anyone trying this before – it would probably need coding from scratch.
· It might be hard to keep it transparent regarding what has happened on an account to cause allowance increases/decreases. However, fines are probably no easier to understand.
· People might try and borrow and return items straight away in order to boost or repair their score. If you excluded items borrowed for less than say 1/2 hour(s) then this would probably solve this in the main.
· People who are good all year round can then get away with more abuse during exams.

So, am I mad, or might this work?

where now?

In a moment of personal discovery today, I realised I needed a professional space that was mine and nothing to do with my employer. As much as I've enjoyed blogging for my job, and using twitter for both, this part was missing. I resolved to get home, get on Blogger and make a blog.

Being all smart and everything, it turns out I've been through a similar thought before - which was when I made this blog, back in 2008.

Anyway, I'm back now and will use this a little bit more. I've imported some personal stuff that I'd put on the work blog for safekeeping here (it's more to do with me than it is them). I've also got some other stuff to share soon.