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Paperless Notifications

Pierce County Library System

Problem Statement

Pierce County Library System is always seeking ways to improve efficiencies, reduce operational costs, and improve services for customers. Staff and managers questioned the efficiency of sending standard U.S. mail postcards to notify people about items on hold or overdue. For years PCLS has offered people telephone or email notifications, and recently added text notifications. These notifications are paperless, with little staff time and minimal costs. In 2009, only 7% (17,441 card holders) of PCLS’s customers had requested mail as their preferred notification method. In 2008 the Library sent 85,400 postcard notifications for a cost of $28,000.


To provide improved and more efficient customer service, offer up-to-date services, be environmentally responsible, and use tax payers’ dollars wisely PCL S decided to notify customers via email, telephone, or text messaging for items people had placed on hold or items that are overdue. Starting Jan. 1, 2010, U.S. Mail would only be offered as a last resort.


PCLS developed and implemented a communications strategy to inform the public of the paperless notification. PCLS communicated directly with customers who received notifications via mail, using direct communication tactics. PCLS also communicated more broadly with customers and potential customers, as well as community leaders to make them aware of this forward-looking change and fiscally responsible and environmentally protective direction, with headlines such as: “Countdown to no-mail notices in 2010! Save time, money and the environment.” When PCLS launched the project, 17,110 customers had requested to receive notifications via the mail. At the conclusion of the two-month project, 15,653 customers (6% of the Library’s 240,629 card holders) still remained on the mail notification list. Thus, a total of 1,457 people contacted PCLS to have their notifications changed to phone or email. This means 8% of the target audience responded. This is a strong success in terms of direct mail marketing, which was a main tool of communication with the target audience. Industry standards for return on investment for direct mail are 1-2%, making the 8% ROI a significant success. Considerable and supportive media coverage also resulted, as well as contacts from other libraries inquiring how to implement paperless notifications.