How NOT to Handle Bad Press

This post appeared on the Facebook page for the Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library today. Take a minute to read through it.

It’s in response to this article:

Stolen Wallet Leads to Major Library Fines from Kansas First News

All I can say is – Shame on you, TSCPL!

They start with a snarky paragraph that immediately casts the patron as being in the wrong. It tells me that they’re completely unsympathetic right out of the gate. They’ve already cast themselves as the bad guys trying to justify their actions.

See, I’ve had my wallet stolen – and frankly, my library card was the last thing on my mind in those circumstances. It’s patently ridiculous to cast a library card as being anywhere near on par with my credit/debit cards. Their expectations of patrons in such a circumstance are completely unrealistic!

Finally, when you report a lost or stolen credit/debit card to the company/bank, they require a police report to officially document the incident. Everyone then relies on that document to determine which charges are fraudulent. Once the fraudulent charges have been identified, credit card companies and banks absolve you of any and all responsibility for them. They don’t ask you to pay a dime – given proof of the loss, they wipe the slate clean and issue you a new card.

I assume that this lady has a police report of the incident. If that’s good enough for credit card companies, it should be more than good enough for a library. There’s simply no way to justify holding her responsible to any degree for items checked out on her card after it was stolen.

Think about what this tells library patrons – Credit cards companies are more sympathetic and more forgiving than the library. That’s really, really bad!

Consider how else they could have handled this…

  1. Teach – don’t lecture. As a library patron, I would find it very useful to know the proper thing to do if I lose my card. But this post is insultingly condescending.
  2. Use this as an opportunity to generate sympathy for the plight of public libraries in this age of funding cuts and eroding support. There is a compelling case to be made for why a library system has to be able to recoup the value of lost items. Ask your patrons for help – “Report lost cards immediately and help prevent someone from defrauding your library of resources.”
  3. They could have taken this opportunity to reconsider their stance on this incident.
  4. Even if they’re not willing to admit that may have handled this badly, they could have taken this opportunity to open a conversation and engage their community in dialog. Instead, they put their foot down and slammed the door on it.

There are so many better ways they could have handled this situation!

In case they take it down, and the clicky at the top stops working, here’s the TSCPL Facebook post:

If your credit card was stolen, how long would you wait to call your bank or credit card company? Would you wait two months to let them know? Of course not! What would you do if your library card was stolen—a card that allows you to check out books, movies and music and like what you buy with your credit card, what you have borrowed cost money and have value. Would you wait two months while charges you didn’t buy, showed up on your account? Of course not, because it would cost you money.

Last night and this morning, Kansas First News is leading with a story by Lauren Seabrook that depicts library cardholder Laura McCollum as “twice victimized” when someone used her card to check out 40 books that have not been returned.

First, Ms. McCollum is not being fined, nor does she owe the library $1000. She recently contacted the library to notify us that her wallet had been stolen more than two months ago and was not the person who checked out the 40 items. She met with library management and worked out a greatly reduced replacement fee for the unaccounted for items.

Lauren Seabrook’s report did not tell the whole story.

The value of books, films and music borrowed from the library is real and we all pay for them. While we sympathize with Ms. McCollum, and have worked with her in good faith to ensure she is not penalized for the theft of her card, this could have been resolved easily had she contacted the library immediately after her library card was stolen.

It costs all of us when a cardholder fails to be responsible for their library card. Fortunately, this is a rare incident at the library, and we encourage everyone to understand the responsibilities of using their public library.

If you have lost your library card, please act responsibly and contact the library immediately.

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