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Task Force on the Simplification of

Circulation Policies at Harvard University Libraries




Submitted April 15, 1999

REVISED January 4, 2000



Baker: Bill Mayer, Chairperson (to May 99), Marc Keeper (beginning May 99)

Design: Scott Kehoe

Divinity: Laura Whitney

Education: Marcella Flaherty

Harvard College: Elizabeth McKeigue, Chairperson (beginning May 99)

HCL Science Libraries: Allen Bourque

HCL Social Science Libraries: Jon Lanham

Health Sciences: Judi Beland

Kennedy School: Paula Ebbitt

Law: Karin Medin

OIS: Martha Creedon

General Charge: Review the circulation policy survey, summary of results and the circ policy data, summary of responses gathered by the PSC and respond to the specific recommendations of the PSC as outlined below.



The Task Force on the Simplification of Circulation Policies has the following recommendations for the Public Services Committee:

Loan Periods

Book Limits

Renewal Limits

Overdue Grace Period





Loan Periods

The PSC recommends that there be two basic loan periods for books:

Undergraduate students, graduate students, summer school students, extension students: 28 days

Faculty, officers, staff: twice a year

Libraries have the flexibility to place all categories of patrons in the 28-day loan period if they so choose.

Libraries have the option of placing advanced graduate students in the twice a year category.

Libraries that do not currently extend loan privileges to summer students and extension students are not required to extend privileges to these patrons.

Tie the loan period to the termination date for non-permanent patrons, for example, visiting faculty members.

Charge: Define twice a year and make recommendations for implementation

TFSCP Recommendation:

28-day loan: for all general circulating materials (i.e. books). This loan period does not apply to special or selective collections or materials such as reserves, audio-visual materials, or other special materials.

Extended loan: items would be due at two intervals, September 10 and February 10. A third interval of June 10 would also be available for libraries that desire a due date that falls immediately after the regular academic year ends.

Loan date tied to Termination Date: not possible at this time. HOLLIS I does not support this function. HOLLIS II should be able to support termination date/loan period restriction automatically depending on patron category configuration.


  1. Libraries have the flexibility to place all patrons in the 28-day loan period.
  2. Libraries have the flexibility to determine the type of loan for each category of patrons. One library may choose to place all categories of patron in the 28 day period, while another may choose to place officers in a 28 day category, and graduate students in an extended loan category.
  3. Simplifies possible numbers of loan periods system wide, making management of patron charge records easier for patrons and staff.
  4. Provides consistent policies across HUL libraries that will ultimately serve patrons more effectively.


  1. Graduate students have traditionally been differentiated at the 3rd or 4th year of their research. Creating two separate loan periods, 28-day and extended, forces libraries to place all graduate students in one category or another. Some libraries may choose to work around this by creating "special borrower" records for graduate students who have qualified in the past for extended loan.

Book Limit

In general Harvard Libraries do not impose a book limit on borrowers.

The PSC recommends that libraries do not impose a book limit on borrowers.

TFSCP Recommendation:

The TFSCP agrees, and recommends no limits be imposed on amount of books charged at one time.


Number of Renewals

The PSC recommends a consistent policy across all libraries and groups of patrons and that the number of renewals be set at either

A. "no limit" or,

B. a fixed number of renewals.

Charge: consider the implication of these options and make a recommendation.

TFSCP Recommendation:

The TFSCP recommends a maximum of 5 renewals for each loan period before the item must be returned to the owning library's circulation desk. For patrons with a 28-day loan period, this would mean bringing the item into the library within 6 months after it was initially borrowed. For patrons with extended loan, items would have to be brought in-hand to the library within 3 years from initial borrowing.

At the time of return, items will be discharged to reset their renewal limits. Materials not "Recalled" or "On Hold" may be immediately charged out to the previous patron.


  1. Requires the patron to return the item in a regular, timely fashion, particularly when renewing remotely has become more convenient than returning materials which are no longer required.
  2. Eliminates the practice of some patrons keeping books unavailable for browsing for more than 3 years.
  3. Enables increased flexibility for libraries tracking their inventory, particularly with faculty who have hundreds of items charged out annually.
  4. Provides a more consistent level of control over library collections without diminishing strong service orientation to patrons.


  1. Upon implementation of simplified due dates and renewal limits, HOLLIS will not provide a "clean slate" for all charged items. This means many items will automatically reach, or be over, their renewal limits. The first due date past implementation for each loan type may create massive returns at one time, a potential burden for all circulation staff. In theory, there should be a consistent, marked decrease in "abnormal" returns during any one period after passing the first two-three due dates for each loan category.
  2. A majority of the HUL libraries polled do not currently impose renewal limits. Marketing the benefits of the change to the client population will be absolutely necessary to overcome potentially negative feelings among patrons.
  3. Patrons of libraries that currently offer extended loan have become used to very long charge periods of 3 years or more - renewal limits may curtail their historic usage patterns and elicit negative response.
  4. Libraries that are used to some parts of their collections continually in circulation may encounter shelving space problems if this results in books being on the shelves more frequently.

Overdue Grace Periods, Fines, Recalls, and Blocking


The four categories listed above cannot be discussed separately as policies unto themselves. Grace periods are a function of fine generation, recall policies must address higher fine structures, and blocking can affect all of these policies. Where possible, the TFSCP will discuss collateral policies simultaneously. However, blocking requires its own discussion entirely.

Overdue Grace Periods

There is considerable variation in practice regarding the extension of grace periods. The PSC does not have a specific recommendation other than the libraries agree on a grace period consistent across the Libraries.

Charge to the TFSPC re: Grace periods

Make a recommendation on a grace period policy that is uniform and consistent across libraries and categories of patrons.


The PSC recommends that fine policy should be consistent across libraries and categories of patrons and applied equitably.

Charge to the TFSPC re: Fines

Develop a recommendation on a specific amount per day.

Develop a recommendation on the categories of patrons to which fines will be applied.

Develop a recommendation on the point at which fines begin to accrue.

What should be the maximum amount of fines accrued per book?


TFSCP Recommendation:

In order to effectively simplify fines and grace periods equitably, the TFSCP recommends that all fines and grace periods be a function of "loan type" rather than patron category. It will be the inclusion in a particular loan type that determines whether a particular patron is subject to fines or blocking. In order for these simplified policies to truly be effective for all patrons and equitably applied by all libraries, the following principles must be agreed upon:

  1. Making policies dependent upon loan type requires that all patrons in a particular loan category must be liable for all policies of that loan type. For example, if libraries choose to include faculty in their 28-day loan period, faculty will be liable and responsible for fines. However, materials charged on extended loan will not be charged daily overdue fines, rather the patron will be subject to privilege blocking and billing for replacement of items.
  2. Libraries agree to block their own faculty - currently, libraries engage in blocking of other schools' faculty. For policies to be consistent across HUL, libraries must treat their own faculty as they treat the faculty of other schools.
  3. Undergraduate and graduate student library privileges will not be liable to blocking policies since the status of their library accounts may affect their ability to graduate. Recalled items that are not returned are the only exception to this policy.

Overdue/Grace/Recall Matrix




Recall Due

Recall Fine

Recall Grace

Max Overdue

28 day


3 days

7 days*






30 days

7 days*




*Recalls are to be considered requests of serious consequence, and therefore carry a substantial penalty. Recalled items will carry a $2.00/day overdue fine, with no grace period. Patron privileges will be blocked 2 weeks after the recalled item is listed as overdue.

In the case of extended loan items, the materials will have a 30 day grace period for renewals (since often there are multiple items). This gives enough time for the overdue notices to be sent and materials brought back in for renewals. However, if items are overdue after 30 days, the borrowing privileges of the patron will be blocked until the materials are renewed or returned. Materials still not renewed or returned after 60 days will be billed for replacement.


  1. Simple, consistent fine policy that is easy to administer, interpret, and market to patrons.
  2. Blocking privileges, rather than fining, for extended loan does mete out some manageable consequences for faculty and others who may be unaware of the needs of other library patrons.


  1. Some libraries may have trouble with the idea of blocking their own faculty members.
  2. Implementation of a simplified, consistent fine policy will have significant consequences for some libraries. For example, in one case, the move to the proposed policy will be effectively doubling the fine structure while halving the grace period. In terms of political bridge building between the libraries and the respective faculties, such a drastic step can be threatening to some library/patron relationships. Further, raising fines with no specific monetary impetus to drive the increase can seem capricious to the patron.
  3. In another case, the library may wish to include their faculty in a 28-day loan period but NOT apply fines. Preserving the relationship to the faculty in all cases must be acknowledged as vital and important. Agreement on policy application and enforcement must be uniform and consistent for the policies to be effective. The ULC will need to take a strong leadership role supporting the consensus required to make these simplified policies work.

  4. Changing fine structures and grace period may have consequences for library budget structures. Some libraries rely heavily on fine revenue to augment acquisition budgets. However, as new systems are brought online, and patron self-renewal becomes a very real capability, the reliance on fines as stable income may become ill-advised.


Blocking Policies

Currently, some HOLLIS-participating libraries have agreed upon some general blocking polices among themselves. Due to the limitations of HOLLIS I, there cannot be a systematic blocking policy that all libraries can use. The major problem is not the blocking of the patron record, but the unblocking of the record which is problematic. For example, a patron is blocked due to an overdue, recalled item. That item may have been successfully returned that morning at the "home" library which owns the book, but in a system-wide blocking environment, the other branch libraries would have no way of knowing the patron was eligible for borrowing again. The service consequences are enormous. Therefore, the TFSCP recommends the following:

  1. Blocking continue to be done manually at all HUL libraries in order to continue educating the patron community to the realities of blocking and privilege loss.
  2. Borrowing privileges of delinquent patrons should be blocked according to the following criteria:
  1. HOLLIS II implementation should allow system-wide blocking policies based on the recommendations generated by the TFSCP. Systematic blocking of privileges chould be based on the following possible data points:

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