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E-mails To Warn of Book Due Dates

By Rebecca D. O’brien, Crimson Staff Writer

Chronically forgetful book-borrowers across campus will now receive a little help in their struggle to stave off library fines—in the form of e-mail reminders two days before their books are due.

“Courtesy notices” from the library system will alert students to impending due dates, and will include a link to the Harvard College Libraries (HCL) home page, where books can be renewed online.

The new policy went into effect last Friday—two months after the Faculty Library Committee, a panel consisting of students and professors, approved the change.

Although librarians and faculty have been discussing an e-mail reminder policy for years, it wasn’t formally proposed until this October, when Undergraduate Council representatives took up the issue.

“My constituents were concerned that the policy that was then in place was not the best for the students,” said James C. Coleman ’03, a member of the council and student representative on the library committee. “It was something that the students wanted.”

Council President Rohit Chopra, who also serves on the library committee, hailed the policy’s implementation as a long-awaited boon to over-fined students.

“Harvard’s library fines are some of the highest in the county,” Chopra wrote in an e-mail. “It will be nice to avoid some of them.”

In the past, HCL was unable to implement the policy because of deficiencies in Hollis, the library’s online catalog, according to Andrew Meade McGee ’03, another member of the library committee.

“We’ve been working on this for quite some time and we are really happy that it is finally germinating,” he said. “The implementation of the new Hollis system has made it possible.”

A similar reminder system for faculty members was put into place last month and met with success, according to Elizabeth McKeigue, assistant head of access services for Widener Library.

Within one day of the first notices, the number of renewals from faculty members quadrupled.

The new system will scour library databases each night and send e-mails out to students in the morning, although those without access to e-mail will still receive paper notices, McKeigue said.

The so-called grace period after the due date—the three day window after books are due, but before fines begin to accrue—will still be in effect.

“It is a really good policy,” McKeigue said. “We’re not out to get anybody with fines. We just want to get the books back.”

—Staff writer Rebecca D. O’Brien can be reached at robrien@fas.harvard.edu.

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