My library has a long and complicated history of how to deal with overdue notifications. We’ve tried a few different forms of printed notices, and at one time we even tried to telephone each patron with overdues. After we switched to Koha we got a new option: sending overdue notices via email. Koha didn’t have a built-in notification system at the time, but the open nature of the application meant we could create our own scripted process to query the Koha database and get the information we needed.
The script, written by our director at the time, Stephen Hedges, queried the Koha database for patrons with overdues and did a few things at once with the results of this query:
- Send overdue notices via email.
- Create a file of overdues data for patrons without email.
- Restrict (“debar”) patrons with items overdue for more than 30 days.
In Koha 3, some of this work can be taken over by new built-in notification functionality. With the Overdue notice/status triggers feature we can define when overdue notices should be sent to patrons and when patrons should be restricted for their overdues (taking care of #3 above).
The drawback to Koha 3’s Notices feature is that it doesn’t give you much help when it comes to printed overdue notices. Koha will send an email notice to any patron who has an email address in their patron record (taking care of #1 above). For patrons without email, Koha collects all of their overdue notices into a single email which is sent to the Koha administrator. Presumably the idea is that the messages can be printed out and mailed by hand.
Unfortunately this won’t work for us: We don’t want to send letters. It’s too much manual labor to stuff envelopes and stick stamps. We want to send post cards. They’re cheaper. Of course for privacy reasons (not to mention space constraints) we can’t print out a list of a patron’s overdue items on a postcard. We want to send them a generic reminder which includes our web address (for online renewals) and phone numbers to our branches. So even with improvements in Koha 3 we need to do some work to take care of #2 from the list of tasks performed by the old overdues script.
Let’s take a look at how the old script worked. It began by performing this query:
SELECT issues.borrowernumber, firstname, surname, streetaddress, physstreet, city, zipcode, emailaddress FROM issues, borrowers WHERE returndate IS NULL AND TO_DAYS( NOW( ) ) - TO_DAYS( date_due ) BETWEEN 8 AND 30 AND issues.borrowernumber = borrowers.borrowernumber AND gonenoaddress < 1 AND borrowers.categorycode != 'HB' ORDER BY issues.borrowernumber
It limited the query to items which were between 8 and 30 days overdue, where the "gonenoaddress" flag was unset (less than one, meaning in this case zero), and where the patron didn't have the 'HB' categorycode (our "homebound" category for home-delivery patrons).
As far as printed notices are concerned, the purpose of the old script was to create a CSV file containing the name and address of each patron with overdues. Since we're going to send a non-personalized postcard to each patron, we don't want the output to include any other personal details. Here's what the results looked like:
|“John Smith”||“1 Main Street”||“”||“Nelsonville OH”||“45764”|
In updating this for Koha 3 we can make that query a little bit more portable by having it check whether the patron in question has a category that requires overdue notices:
SELECT issues.borrowernumber, borrowers.firstname, borrowers.surname, borrowers.address, borrowers.address2, borrowers.city, borrowers.zipcode FROM issues, borrowers, categories WHERE issues.returndate IS NULL AND TO_DAYS( NOW( ) ) - TO_DAYS( issues.date_due ) BETWEEN 8 AND 30 AND issues.borrowernumber = borrowers.borrowernumber AND borrowers.gonenoaddress < 1 AND borrowers.categorycode = categories.categorycode AND categories.overduenoticerequired = 1 AND borrowers.email IS NOT NULL AND borrowers.email != '' ORDER BY borrowers.surname,borrowers.firstname
I've added a check that categories.overduenoticerequired is 1, which eliminates the need to hard-code the ‘HB’ patron category. I’ve also added a check to make sure the patron email address field isn’t empty (the old script performed that check elsewhere).
Since I’m more comfortable in PHP than Perl, I use a PHP script to query MySQL and format the results to be saved as a CSV file just like the old script did.
Taking it to the Post Office
We’ve successfully pulled the data we need. What next? We use an online service called Click2Mail, a “trusted and accredited partner to the United States Postal Service.” Click2Mail allows us to define a custom postcard template with our own personalized message. We can then upload our CSV file containing the name and address information for each patron with overdues. The service parses that CSV file, prints one postcard for each patron, and delivers it to the USPS for delivery. Click2Mail even checks your mailing addresses for possible errors and lets you review them.
Their cost estimator puts the cost of sending 100 single-sided postcards at about $30. Considering the time, effort, and cost of stuffing and stamping 100 letters, Click2Mail seems to be a great value.