Slaughtering circulation rules

Andrew Pace takes on Sacred Cow #2 in decrying the needless complication of library Circulation Rules. As Pace notes, the answer to the simple question “how long can I check out this item?” typically involves a complicated formula based on library, material type, and user category. So the exact same book might be loaned to a faculty member for a year, a student for 28 days, and to anyone for some other seemingly arbitrary loan period if they happen to check out the copy from the “wrong” library. As Pace notes, we really need to look at these rules and systems, and ask if they are serving any useful purpose. As long as everyone has the option to recall items they need that are checked out to others, why do we need different loan periods?

I’m especially baffled by the seemingly iron-clad rule that reference books aren’t available to be checked out at all. I’m told that we can’t loan reference materials because we need to make sure they are on hand in case someone needs them. Again—isn’t that what Recall options are for? We worry that no one is using the reference collection, only to have to tell someone who wants to use some great handbook or encyclopedia we have that they can’t check it out. We seem to be telling patrons “Please come use our collections … but not too much!”. What would be so awful about having lots of patrons constantly checking out items from our reference collection? I would certainly prefer the possibility of demand exceeding supply than the current complicated system of circulation rules seemingly designed around preventing possible over-use of our collection. And most libraries I know would be thrilled if patrons were fighting over who gets first dibs on reference books!

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