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Salt Lake County Library patrons with overdue materials, fines and reserves on materials will now hear from "Paul."

They may not like what Paul's digital computer generated voice says on occasion. But they would do well to listen. His call may save them money.Many of the calls will be about materials the patron has requested.

In case of overdue materials and fines, the system will notify people sooner and will remind borrowers that they owe the library money. Also, in the future those called may be able to talk back to Paul.

The new automated system, which has been in operation three weeks in the county, is being used to call patrons on the phone to reduce the number of notices being sent through the mail. In addition to calls about overdue materials, fines and other miscellaneous charges, Paul will tell patrons where to pick up materials they have ordered and how long they will be held.

Installed at a cost of about $11,000, the system permits the library to notify patrons more rapidly. It is also designed to keep paper and postage costs to a minimum.

When Paul calls he will say that he is calling from the library with a message for aparticular person. He will try calling the person up to two times in one day. If no one answers the call and an answering machine doesn't pick up the call or it doesn't go to voice mail, Paul will try again - but only once the following day. If the person still hasn't been contacted, a notice will be sent in the mail.

"If you answer his call in person, don't hang up but stay on the line and listen to the message, since this will be your only notice," said Ronda Beckstead, library information systems manager. The only exception to the latter is when books or other materials are not returned within three months.

Such patrons are then charged the price of the material plus a processing fee.

Beckstead said overdue materials and fines continue to be a serious problem in the county. She said some library users believe that because they are taxpayers they shouldn't have to pay fines or other library charges. They should realize, she said, that keeping material beyond due dates deprives others from checking out the same items.

Before the new system became fully operational, the library was mailing an average of 1,000 letters per day. And work to send the letters, sent after materials were two weeks overdue, takes staff time and costs money in stationery, envelopes and postage.

At any one time between 1994 and 1996, an average of 3,000 people owed the county library system $50 or more. The new system will save the libraries about $26,000 a year in staff time alone and about an equal amount in postage. Most of the mailing is handled through bulk mailing at a cost of 27 cents a letter, Beckstead said.

Postage and paper costs should now drop about 50 percent, and within 11/2 to two years the library should be able to recover costs incurred with purchase of the new equipment, she said.

If in the future the library system purchases more telephone lines and more computer modems, library patrons will be able to talk back to Paul to find out the amount of their fine.

The average library fine is 15 cents a day on an overdue book, cassette or compact disc. A $1-per-day fine is levied on overdue books on tape, videos and CD-roms for computers because those items are in high demand.

Library officials say their pal Paul makes his calls from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Fridays and 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturdays. No calls are made Sundays or holidays.

More information about the automated system is available by calling the library at 943-4636.