A month after the June 23 approval of the Knox County budget, library patrons got a 50 percent increase—in the time they're allowed to keep materials without incurring fines. As of July 22, the system returned to its three-week loan period for books and audiobooks, up from the two-week circulation limit set in February.
"The approved county budget restored our materials budget," says Mary Pom Claiborne, communications administrator for the Knox County Library system. "We had a materials budget four years ago that was about $1.6 million, and we've been able to return to the equivalent of that, if you account for inflation."
In the four years intervening, the budget for new purchases just kept getting squeezed, says Claiborne. "It was cut to the point where people were waiting way too long for popular materials, because we had to put them on a hold list instead of just buying additional copies of, say, books by James Patterson."
Some books had so many holds a patron might have to wait six months to a year for a copy to become available, says Claiborne. "Of course that's the worst-case scenario, because some people will get a book and return it in a couple of days, and others bail before the list gets to them." The two-week loan period instituted in February was an attempt to cut the wait without actual cash outlay.
Nancy Petersen, collection management specialist for the system, has a formula she employs to determine which materials are so popular they warrant purchasing additional copies. "When we had our shortage of funding, she had to go to one book purchased per five holds on a list," says Claiborne. "Now she's been able to make that one book purchased for every three holds."
One small pinch did accompany the revived three-week loan period. "When the loan period was two weeks, we allowed a total of three renewals," says Claiborne. "Now that it's three weeks, you can renew only twice—if the book hasn't been put on hold for another patron."
Claiborne says the whole system is relieved by the return to the three-week circulation: patrons, library attendants, and Claiborne herself. "I'm a very slow reader," she says. "I hated that two-week loan period."