The original idea of the Fresh Start program was that the public library gave teenagers a one-time deal to get or replace their library cards, return any overdue items without penalty, and clear their outstanding library fines.  There were many benefits to this program, both for patrons and for the library.  The teens were happy because they were getting their fines cleared — some of these fines had been generated years ago when they were children (sometimes even by  friends and family members who used their cards), and these fines had prevented them from checking out materials for homework or for entertainment.  It was also beneficial to the library because we got a lot of our materials back, and because it created a new influx of patrons who would boost our circulation statistics.

With the advent of our Millennium catalog system, young adult librarians all over the system were alarmed to see another new development.  Fresh Starts would now clear up to $50 of overdue / lost item fines, not including any collection agency fees.  So already the program was crippled.  If you were a teenager who owed $100 because you lost some books, or the items you checked out were left behind when you moved from another parent’s home / foster care / whatever, that was too bad.  We could waive $50, but you had to take care of the rest of it yourself.  We have very few adult patrons nowadays who can come up with $50 for library fines, and teenagers are even less likely to be able to pay the balance of their fees.  Which means that they STILL won’t be able to check anything out, which means that they won’t be able to help our circulation statistics, and the library won’t collect the balance of the fines anyway.  In addition, we learned that through yet another glitch in our migration from Dynix to Millennium, if we “clear charge” an item that was checked out before our system changed over, many times the fine still remains on the patron’s card.  Which means we have to go into the patron’s record afterwards and manually waive the fine, which means that we have to enter our authorization code to do so.  And we are VERY aware that every time we waive anything now, we are being monitored and may face reprimands if we waive too much.

We knew that the Fresh Start slips were being redesigned to reflect the new “up to $50” policy, but we’ve been waiting for the forms to be ready so that we could order them in time for class visits.  When classes visit the public library, we don’t need the forms, but we do need them when we conduct class visits in the schools.  That’s when we visit classes in the school library, in the classrooms, or sometimes in an auditorium or another location in the school.  We present an introduction to the library, including an overview of library policies, the website, events, booklists, and the Fresh Start program.  We present booktalks of cool books that are on our shelves (which is my favorite part of the job, in case you were wondering).  And then at the end of the class we give out the Fresh Start slips to the students with instructions on how to use them at their local libraries.  Depending on how many classes we visit, we could go through a pack of 100 Fresh Start slips in a day.  So while we don’t need the slips all the time, when we’re visiting every 7th grade class in a local middle school, for example, we need a LOT of them.

And then yesterday we learned why we haven’t been able to order any Fresh Start slips lately.  Because from now on, the redesigned forms are only going to be available on our staff website, and we will have to print them out as needed.

Yesterday I was furious about this.  But now that I’ve had some time to sleep on it, I’m just dejected instead.

I’m assuming that this decision was made to save money.  But what it really means is that each library where the staff conduct school outreach visits will suffer financially.  Because in order to make enough copies to give out to that many students, we will have to eat through our increasingly-precious toner cartridges or our increasingly-precious copy machine cards.  Either that or go out to Staples and pay for our own copies, I suppose.

So now in addition to feeling an overall sense of irritation, I’m also wondering if this is part of a larger trend.  I want to know if the Fresh Start program, and even school outreach in general, is being phased out altogether.  And before you think that I’ve already made up my mind about this, I’ll tell you that my original title for this post was “The Death Knell of the Fresh Start Program.”  But I rephrased it to give some leeway.  So instead I’m phrasing it as a question … now tell me if I’m wrong.