About six months back my boss accidentally misquoted our fines totals to me. I was so shocked at the large amount that my mind immediately went into a “how do we fix this?” mode. About an hour later she sent me a message with the much lower and accurate amount – however, by that time I had thought up a few ideas that I thought we should try anyway. She agreed and that’s how we decided to take a slightly more aggressive role in Random Acts of Kindness Week.
Last month my boss and I met to specifically hash out details on how we wanted to make this idea work. We knew that we wanted to allow our patrons to pay off other patron’s fines for them. The biggest concerns were 1. how to keep the recipients random, and 2. how to respect their privacy. By the end of the meeting we decided to focus on Lost items since likely they would be for random people, or directly to the library (for when things are stolen or inaccurately shelved by others trying to help us “put books back where they belong”). An added bonus was that it wouldn’t hurt our Food for Fines program which is only concerned with overdue fines. The main part of the agenda that remained unresolved was how to actually present the items/cost to the patrons. We thought that it should be sort of like those “angel trees” you see around the holidays. But we left the meeting agreeing to think about it over the weekend.
A few hours later I was at home and had let the problem percolate in the back of my mind. Here’s the thing: Mary and I had already come up with a design for our Children’s front windows in February based on this. Basically, a hand tree trunk with hearts for leafs – and instead of the magazine pages from the example, Mary used pink/red book cover photocopies with red/pink construction paper. She also did an amazing ombre effect on the hand. It was so stunning from the street, that on my way to work the first day after she had put it up I almost slammed on my breaks, and I definitely exclaimed something really loud. I wish that my photos could do her work justice – it’s absolutely bright and lovely in person.
But back to my mind percolating! I had the thought of “well, we already have a ‘tree’ at the Children’s Library – I bet Mary would make another sort of tree at the Main Library.” And boom went some synapse in my brain : The Giving Tree. I texted my boss right then and there with the idea, and she immediately responded with an excited “YES.”
Mary made an amazing replica of Shel Silverstein’s Giving Tree and put it up in the Main Library’s lobby where we’d never put a display before. After all, we wanted it very eye catching and unavoidable.
I made apples (using this clip art) with pictures of each missing item and its cost, then Brittany and Mary cut them out, and I sticky-tacked them up after we closed one Saturday afternoon. I also cut leafs out of green construction paper to indicate when an item had been paid for (where someone could either write his/her name or anonymous). I gave each location a dedicated envelope to hold the leafs and also the “purchased” apples.
But let me back up a little bit and explain how this works:
We put up apples with the items that have been marked Lost in our system. A patron picks an apple (or four or five) and bring them to the circulation desk. They pay the amount(s), we mark the amount on our fines sheet (where we’ve made one of the rows dedicated to “kindness” to help us keep track of the numbers). We then give them a leaf to either write their names, or if they decline, then we’ll write “anonymous” and place it back on the display.
But that’s not all!
Mary also decorated two of our “donation funnels” as, what she calls “bonsai trees.” I call them adorable. I made signs for them to explain to others that they could put their change in them this week to be pooled to help pay off fines as well.
My boss put a nice write-up online and mentioned what we were doing on her personal social media, and suddenly we had people from out-of-state requesting to help us pay for some of the items! Furthermore, a library in North Carolina expressed interest in doing something similar. We were pleasantly surprised about all of this. As a result she then adjusted her original article to list a few items for anyone who wanted to mail us checks (if we get accidental doubles, then again they will go into our pool).
The other thing that I did this week was make a set of bookmarks that give instructions to write or draw something nice for a stranger, cut off the instruction portion of the bookmark, and then hide it in a library book. On the back side of the bookmark I added our logo at the bottom just for the sake of marketing. I thought it would be a fun/simple/free way to also promote Random Acts of Kindness Week.
This whole process has led to some other ideas where we will encourage patrons to help one another in different areas (which I’ll definitely post about if we make it happen). And for sure I will update this post next week with the results of this unusual program.
Even if this ends up being a “financial flop,” I think that at minimum this is a good way to draw people’s attention to the fact that Lost items do happen, and that it’s not just a few books, movies, or audiobooks here or there – it’s a significant amount. Hopefully this subtly reminds others to pay a bit more respect to the materials that they check out from us.
UPDATE: Well, as of last week the community paid for 3 items using the apples. I took the apples down and replace them with a sign thanking everyone and announcing that we’d keep the “tree funnels” up through the rest of the month. We’re also waiting to see if we do get checks in the mail from out of state.
UPDATED UPDATE: Well, no checks came in from out of town (despite some promises), but that’s fine. The tree funnels garnered us close to $15. The phone calls I made were the best thing – letting people know they had gotten a gift from someone in the community. I mainly left voicemails, but I did speak with one teenager who was blown away (since it meant he could again check out since prior to this he was over our fine limit).
BUT – here’s the thing that made the whole event for me – I had left a voicemail for a young boy letting him know that someone had paid for a book he had lost (around $5), so his fines owed were down to 20 cents. His mom came in later that day and gave us $10 to pay the 20 cents and then asked us to pay it forward to someone else. YAAAY!!! ::Kermie arm flailing:: I was able to help clear one more patron’s fines. It was awesome.
In the end we helped 5 different patrons with paying off their Lost fines – and we’re looking forward to doing this again next year, with maybe a few tweaks to the program.