Baltimore County is making it easier to find out how much you owe in library fines -- or in doublespeak terminology, "extended loan fees." And in the near future the county library system will call you at home when you have an overdue book.
But the good news is, by next summer, you will be able to renew books over the phone to avoid that dinner-time dunning call.
All this is because of a computer upgrade that went into operation recently to streamline library procedures and serve customers better, says library spokeswoman Lynn Lockwood. "However, the computer won't put us librarians on the unemployment rolls," she said. "The public will still need us to figure out what they want."
The upgraded system will also tell you that the book you have reserved is in. But it is discreet; it won't name the book.
"The system will save money on postage and staff time," said library computer specialist Michael Stevens. The library had been sending out about 750 notices a day for books on reserve, a process it has discontinued.
The information is now available by calling 494-9063 and punching in your 14-digit library number. A guttural computer voice will welcome you by name and politely read you your list of sins, if you have any, as in "Hello Smith, Joe, you have three overdue items, you owe $2,273.91."
The recording also provides general information, such as library hours and holiday closings.
A library member can also obtain information on Internet accounts, which the library sells to county residents for $75 a year and to nonresidents for $100.
The upgrade was installed by Carl Corp. of Denver for $24,000. "It's a new thing for libraries, and Baltimore County now has one of the most advanced systems in the country," a Carl spokesman said.
"We thought it would be a big item for yuppies, but it is the senior citizens who are using it most," he said. "It saves them trips to the library. The downside, which we didn't anticipate, is the loss of interaction between the library staff and the public."