Library using collection agency
By Angie Landsverk
The Waupaca Area Public Library began sending some patron accounts to a collection agency on Jan. 31.
It sent 25 patrons accounts to the agency that day.
The value of the unreturned library materials from those 25 accounts totaled more than $2,300, Library Director Peg Burington said.
“By Thursday (Feb. 2), library materials were already being returned,” she said.
That is the point of using the collection agency – to recover missing library materials so other library patrons continue to have access to them, and the library does not have to spend money to replace them.
Last year, Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill allowing libraries to use a collection agency to help them recover the materials of delinquent accounts.
Libraries in the Outagamie Waupaca Library System (OWLS) agreed to use a collection agency for patron accounts having at least one unreturned item valued at $50.
Each library decided whether it wanted to send collectors after its patrons.
OWLS recommended its member libraries sign resolutions in support of the practice, even if they did not intend to use the collection agency, because the materials of member libraries are exchanged through the interlibrary loan program.
The libraries that decided to use the collection agency may only collect items from their own patrons, Burington said.
“If another library is not using the collection agency, we can’t send another library’s patrons to collections,” she said.
Unique Management Services, Inc. is helping the OWLS libraries recover their materials.
The company is exclusively a collection agency for recovering library materials, Burington said.
Libraries throughout the country use the company, she said.
When a patron’s account is sent to Unique Management, the agency receives the patron’s name, contact information and the amount owed, Burington said.
“They don’t know the names of the materials,” she said.
The confidentiality of what the patron checked out of the library is thus not being breached, which was important to the libraries, Burington said.
Patrons receive several notices before their accounts are sent to the collection agency,
They may receive email or text courtesy notices and first overdues at three days overdue and second overdues at 14 days overdue.
Those notices are from the library that owns the materials.
Waupaca’s library mails the first notice, but not the second one, Burington said.
She said it is too costly to mail the second notices and noted that “most people return the items when they get the first notice.”
Patrons are billed for items at 28 open days overdue.
All bills include the message, “Unpaid balances above $50 may be referred to a collection agency.”
The collection report then gathers accounts with items that are at least 45 open days overdue.
This means patrons are notified several times before the account becomes eligible for collections, Burington said.
“We want to get the materials back,” she said.
Once an account is sent to collection, a $10 collection fee is also added to the account, Burington said.
She said a collection account is not closed until all library materials are returned and all fees – including the overdue fines and $10 collection fee – are paid.
When a patron returns the materials and pays the fine and fee, that patron’s account becomes active again and the person may use the library again, Burington said.
She said when a patron has library fines, fees or bills in excess of $5, that person’s library account becomes inactive.
The person may not check out materials or use computers at the library, she said.
“The goal is to have people be able to use the library,” Burington said. “That is what it’s all about – access.”
If an item is not returned through the collection process, Unique Management will bill the library the $10 collection fee.
Sometimes, letters sent to library patrons are returned to the library.
In the past, libraries had no recourse.
However, Unique Management has the ability to use other tools to find out where someone moved to and what the person’s phone number is, she said.
If after using those databases, the agency still cannot reach the patron, the library will then be out that money, Burington said.
As accounts become eligible for collection, they will be sent to the agency.
She expects one to two accounts per week will be sent to collections.
The 25 accounts initially sent to collection went back to last March, because that is when the law went into effect, she said.
Burington said it has been wonderful to work with Unique Management.
The company has what it calls a “gentle nudge,” she said.
When they call patrons, they tell them they have overdue library materials and give them a dollar amount for the value of the materials.
“If there is no response to the phone call, they send a letter,” Burington said.
She said the representatives have a calm, supportive demeanor when they call patrons.
“Their role is to get people to contact their libraries and get the materials back,” Burington said.
During the Feb. 7 common council meeting, Mayor Brian Smith asked her to comment on this new procedure.
“We hope people understand we’re not trying to bully anyone,” Burington said. “We just want the materials back so other people can enjoy them.”