We have all experienced the joys of returning from a Holiday weekend to find that huge pile of books in the return room. If not, we have seen the pictures taped to the wall depicting such joy…
How to best process returns is one of my favorite conversations to have with libraries. One, because I love solving challenges, which if you are reading this you know there are many. Second, because it provides such a sense of relief for all involved. While there are a lot of similarities between libraries, we learned long ago that every library is unique. While the concepts of circulation may be the same, every library has it’s own set of rules, limits, requirements that dictate the process they use in order to check items in, sort through materials, and return them to the stacks. Which is precisely the reason that we created our Semi Automated Returns line of product, to help libraries, of all sizes and shapes, better manage the returns process.
Returns – Inconvenient for EVERYONE…
Whether your returns are located internally, externally or both, it’s never really convenient for anyone. Case in point, think about the limits that you place on the number of items a patron can check it out at one time. Is it 30, 40, 50? Is it more than that? Maybe, you would say, you have no limits to the number of items a patron can check out. Have you ever thought about what drives that? In many cases, it could be just good will. The library wants patrons to be able to read as many books as humanly possible in a two or three week period without having to return to the Library. (I might suggest one would want patrons to return more often, but…) However, it may also be high enough to help eliminate the situation where a patron returns items and then tries to check out more items BEFORE Staff has had the opportunity to go to returns bin and check everything in. So after several trips to check whether or not a patron has, in fact, just returned items, the decision was made to raise the limit, and thus rectify the situation.
Our patrons brought the items back…now what? The other fun task for library staff of processing all of the returns in order to get them where they need to be also comes with challenges. Now every item must be checked in. Then it must be determined with each item, where does it belong? Is it Adult Fiction, Children’s, Young Adult, Non-Fiction, etc.? Is it reserved for another patron? Does it belong in this library, or does it go to another branch to be shelved, or on hold? There is so much to do, and as always, time is of the essence.
So what are some ways that we can best manage returns in the library?
- The Old-Fashioned Way – One at a time, slow and steady.
- AMH – Automated Materials Handling or a Sorter – Fast and EXPENSIVE. On a large scale, for libraries with high circulation, a room large enough, or a budget big enough AMH Systems make perfect sense.
- Semi-Automated Returns – A mix of Intelligent Return Solutions perfect for libraries that may not have a space large enough for a Sorter, or a budget big enough.
I have a feeling you are well aware of the “Old-Fashioned” method of handling returns. While it has grown a little more efficient over time, and with the addition of RFID, it is still slow and somewhat painful at best. While every library that uses this method has worked hard to make it as efficient as possible, we still see the need for staff to “touch” items too many times to get items back where they belong. It is time consuming to say the least. In most cases, it also does not even approach the challenge of clearing the patron record in order to allow them to borrow more items immediately. Many libraries, however, feel as though there are no other options, given the size and cost of AMH.
AMH, at this point seen as the only other option for processing returns is the sexy option. Libraries, Architects and Vendors today are designing all kinds of unique, and incredible solutions in order to let patrons watch with amazement as their book travels down the conveyor to it’s final destination, the bin…They are AWESOME, and we love to help libraries design these solutions WHEN and WHERE it makes sense.
But what about that library whose returns room is small, and the budget seems even smaller? Or for that matter, the library that realizes that they can achieve what needs to be done in a more cost effective manner and use that budget elsewhere? This precisely why we created the industry’s only Semi Automated Returns line of products. Our Smart Bin designed to check-in every RFID tagged item that falls into it immediately clears your patrons record allowing them to check out more items. Our Intelligent Return Chutes provide another way for patron returns that check in items as well. Our Sort Assistant is where the magic happens. The Sort Assistant provides for more efficient sorting of items showing staff members where items go next. It has the capability to sort by branch (for multi branch libraries), identify and print hold’s slips, identify items in transit and print slips, and sort down to collection codes as well for items staying at the home library. Our libraries that have deployed our Semi Automated Returns solutions are reporting an estimated 40% increase in efficiency and are able to better manage and staff their returns room as a result.