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Seminarian Collection Agents for Libraries? Holy Cow!


Via Library Link of the Day, we read this:

Overdue help for the other lending crisis: Libraries hire a firm (and its seminarians) to fight six-figure losses, July 13, 2008, by Jeff Gammage, Inquirer Staff Writer


“The Bucks County library system wants its stuff back.

That Jim Morrison biography, No One Here Gets Out Alive. The antidrug primer Go Ask Alice. And Ray Bradbury’s classic Fahrenheit 451.

All the thousands of books, CDs, DVDs, audiobooks and videotapes that patrons checked out a year ago, or years ago, then misplaced or forgot.

Librarians don’t like to use the word stolen, but in the last three years, nearly $350,000 worth of goods has disappeared.

That’s a lot of vowels.

Now Bucks administrators plan to retain an Indiana collection agency that works exclusively with libraries to recover property and get deadbeat borrowers to pay fines and fees. The firm, Unique Management Services Inc., doesn’t use tough-talking, pay-us-or-we’ll-ruin-your-credit collection agents.

It employs seminarians. Honest to God.

Who better than a future pastor to politely argue the moral probity of giving back what doesn’t belong to you? The firm has even trademarked what it calls the “gentle nudge” process of persuading borrowers to repent and return.

“It’s not like the movie Repo Man,” said Martina Kominiarek, executive director of the Bucks County Free Library and District Center in Doylestown. “We feel OK having them represent the library.”

Businessmen Lyle Stucki and Charlie Gary came from traditional collection-agency backgrounds, but after working with a few libraries, they realized many lenders had the same problem with book returns. In 1994 they founded Unique in Jeffersonville, Ind.
The company works with about 900 libraries, mostly in the United States but also in Canada, Britain and Australia. The firm says most clients will see a recovery rate of 60 percent to 70 percent the first year.

The “gentle nudge” goes like this: After a library has exhausted its own late notices, Unique sends a letter, asking the patron to return the goods. If three weeks pass without reply, a second letter goes out. Two weeks later, the company calls the person at home.

“We’re very, very respectful,” said Kenes Bowling, Unique’s manager of customer development. “We appeal to people’s sense of doing the right thing.”

A key part of the nudge is not the how but the who. Many of the callers are students at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, across the Ohio River in Louisville, Ky. The relationship between firm and school started by accident. A student came looking for a job, then referred a friend, who referred others.

Unique executives found that the students possessed a desirable mix of empathy, listening skills and persuasiveness.

“They have a gentle demeanor,” Bowling said. “It’s the kind of approach that customers want us to have with their patrons….

Borrowers who refuse to comply may have their names turned over to credit agencies.” (full article)

Hmmm … maybe they can get my books back from the FBI.

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