question: library fines

I remember that there was a big discussion when this article about library fines came out last year, but I was wondering what has happened since? I have a friend at a large-ish library in Vermont who is thinking about trying to push for the elimination of fines at her library. She is looking for anecdotes but also data from libraries who have previously had fines and then eliminated them, data she can take to her board. I think it’s pretty easy to say “Well we lost $3,000 but we made it up in goodwill!” but in some cases 3K is not an amount you can afford to lose when you can’t pay the propane bill with goodwill. I have a few starter questions.

– Do you have different fines for different media?
– Do you have a grace period after the due date but before fines are levied?
– Does it make sense to remove fines but still bill for lost/damaged books?
– Do you have a “conscience jar” and if so, do people use it?
– Do you think fines really encourage people to bring materials back on time?
– Do you think removing fines meant that you got fewer materials back on time?
– Do you think having a catalog that allowed people to place holds on checked-out materials lessens the need for fines?

So, please feel free to leave some links and stories in the comments so that I can help my friend help her library. Thank you.

40 comments for “question: library fines

  1. jay
    09Aug07 at 11:55

    i am sometimes late with the movies i borrow from the library, for whatever reason. or i’m 50 pages from finishing a book and it was due today but no way jose am i returning it before i finish. and then i think to myself, well if i return it tomorrow, it only costs me a nickel. this is not an expensive penalty and it puts a low price on lateness rather than guilting me into returning it because someone else is in the queue after me (possibly a better motivator).

    i believe there was a chapter (or at least an anecdote) in freakonomics about a daycare center that began charging late fees if you picked up your kids past a certain time that is also a great illustrator of this point. once you can pay money for lateness, you stop feeling bad about it.

  2. nushustu
    09Aug07 at 11:58

    I work in Austin, TX. The Austin Public Library system does fines of 10 cents a day for everything except dvds ($1/day.) Most people don’t have a problem with this. The problem comes from having to pay for lost books. There was a dad who was trying to pay for a children’s book checked out for his young son. It was a board book, small (3″x3″.) In addition to the price of the book, APL charges $25 to replace the book. He was pretty mad when I told him that it was going to cost him over thirty bucks for a book the size of a 2-disc CD jewel case.

    Oh, and the comparison in the article with Netflix is absurd. Nobody is going to shell out twenty bucks a month for the privilege of checking out no more than three books at a time…

  3. Richard
    09Aug07 at 12:43

    I don’t work in a library, but working two blocks away from Milwaukee’s Central library, I have tons of materials of all stripes checked out at any one time. As an avid user, I say keep the fines coming.

    I’m quite sure that if the fines didn’t exist, I would bring items back much later than I do – and I suspect other users would do the same. I’m not proud, but I tend to procrastinate with such things.

    Especially with New Fiction selections, which are a good portion of what I check out. What’s the point of having a 7-day section, if there’s no way to enforce that particular limit? The other patrons who want those items will be the ones that suffer.

    Also, I suppose that would require to come up with a new limit. Currently, the local system doesn’t have a limit on the number of items you can check out – at least not one I’ve ever hit. It *DOES* have a limit on the fines you can have ($5) and still get more materials. Which I hit quite often!

    My two cents.

    -> Richard

  4. 09Aug07 at 12:48

    Several years before I got here my library system lowered all fines to 10 cents a day for everything. While that’s better than higher fines, I’ve always felt that fines unfairly target families with small children. A preschooler might check out a large stack of picture books, while a single adult might get only one or two books. A family with multiple children might mean multiple stacks of picture books. I don’t have a solution to this, other than eliminating fines all together, but it bothers me.

  5. Doug Henderson
    09Aug07 at 1:01

    Why do you charge fines? I think that libraries that charge fines are double taxing their constituents. I do not believe the overdue rate is significantly greater at libraries that don’t charge fines. If you tell your users that you charge fines simply to raise revenue that is fine. If you tell them you are doing to get folks to return items quicker I think it is questionable.

  6. 09Aug07 at 1:47

    Northern Illinois University Libraries (IL) had no fines—seemed to work for them. Sorry, don’t know any of the data details.

  7. Jamie Anderson
    09Aug07 at 2:33

    For a big system, sadly fines are a large revenue source. The system I used to work at took in in excess of $100,000 per year. That money went directly to the City, which then reapplied that amount to the library’s operating budget for the following year.

    When the library introduced email notification of upcoming due dates, there was about a 17% drop in fine monies generated. This caused some worry in the City’s Finance department.

  8. 09Aug07 at 2:58

    My new library system does not charge fines, which surprised me at first, but makes a lot of sense now that I am used to it. Patrons can renew books up to five times, but if they don’t do it within a certain time period, it turns into a lost book and check out is frozen. It seems to work great. I think that the revenue that comes from fines couldn’t possibly pay for the amount of time staff has to spend dealing with them.

  9. 09Aug07 at 3:00

    Over the past year or two we have given a general rethinking to both our fines and our circulation periods because traditionally most of our patrons just ignored them all and kept materials however long they felt like and if it seemed too expensive to return by then, just kept them permanently (and our director doesn’t want to offend anyone–this is a very small community–by pursuing them aggressively).

    So we ended up extending movie circulation to a week from two days (originally set so as not to compete with the grocery store, which rents movies and charges late fees) and books to three weeks from two, both of which slashed our overdues drastically.

    We also eliminated fines and put out a tin for donations. When someone asks what their fine is, we tell them “as guilty as you feel” is the correct donation size. Those who feel they should keep things as long as they want with no respect to others don’t donate, but at least bring stuff back now. Those who want to contribute are generous beyond the minimal fines we used to fail to ever get around to charging anyway.

    I can’t quantify the results because at our worst period we didn’t keep records in any specific way that captured this, but subjectively, there’s a huge improvement. That plus having circulation software that lets us see what someone has checked out, so we can offer to renew anything that’s due that they haven’t returned yet, thereby raising their awareness that yes, we do expect them to keep track of these things.

    I’m not sure this would work as well for a situation such as Richard describes above, but in our tiny community’s all-volunteer library, it seems to smooth over some of the worst potential for hard feelings while still achieving our overall goal, getting stuff back eventually.

  10. 09Aug07 at 5:30

    My experience is that where there are overdue fines for books, it discourages patrons from coming back to the library, and, in some cases, they just don’t return their books if they’re going to “have to pay for it anyway”. Either way, it’s bad.

    I remember when I was young, my local library charged fines according to the number of notices they they had to send through the mail, to cover processing costs (ie. 50c per notice). I thought that was a fair system.

    But in a public library, I have the strong view that the only reason a patron should have to pay for anything is if they’ve damaged/destroyed a book due to blatant neglect. And no, a chewed kid’s book doesn’t count – it happens, just like a well-loved paperback will have pages falling out in no time.

  11. Ananke
    09Aug07 at 6:06

    I think my worst fee was about $AU40 at my local library. A couple of books, a couple of weeks. They charge for reserves as well. I can check my holds, overdues and checked out items online, which tells me I have five books on reserve (55c each when I pick them up) and $4.60 in a mix of overdues and hold fees. I can get up to $10 before they stop me borrowing. I get email notices of it all as well. The $40 happened at the end of a bad term’s assessment period, while I was sick and moving. I didn’t begrudge it, because me keeping the items meant no-one else could use them

    I think it works. It places value on the resources and the work libraries do. There will always be people who argue that their carelessness/ignorance/neglect wasn’t really any of those things – which doesn’t change the fact that their actions not only meant a resource is now missing, but that people had to take time out from helping others to ask them to do the right thing.

  12. 09Aug07 at 6:15

    – Do you have different fines for different media? Yes most items are 10 cents a day but VHS and DVDs are 1.00 per day.
    – Do you have a grace period after the due date but before fines are levied? Yes, for everything but Movies
    – Does it make sense to remove fines but still bill for lost/damaged books? Yes, you still need to replace the item. If you waive the fine, you still get the item in the end while a lost/damaged item will probably be replaced.
    – Do you have a “conscience jar” and if so, do people use it? No
    – Do you think fines really encourage people to bring materials back on time? Sometimes, it depends on the person. Usually people are frequently late or never late, there are very few in the middle who are late once in a while.
    – Do you think removing fines meant that you got fewer materials back on time? yes
    – Do you think having a catalog that allowed people to place holds on checked-out materials lessens the need for fines? No

  13. 09Aug07 at 6:46

    – Do you have different fines for different media?
    No, we have no fines

    – Do you have a grace period after the due date but before fines are levied?
    No, we have no fines

    – Does it make sense to remove fines but still bill for lost/damaged books?
    Hell Yes! If it is late, we get it back, if you dropped it in the bath, we don’t want it back we want to replace it.

    – Do you have a “conscience jar” and if so, do people use it?
    No and No

    – Do you think fines really encourage people to bring materials back on time?
    No, unless you are a university library where people are on campus every day, people will just return them next time they are passing

    – Do you think removing fines meant that you got fewer materials back on time?
    I haven’t seen any difference between libraries with an without fines (and I’ve worked in both) some people are always on time, some people are often late.

    – Do you think having a catalog that allowed people to place holds on checked-out materials lessens the need for fines?
    I think it is a good feature, but it doesn’t make any difference to people who don’t care about due dates

  14. 09Aug07 at 7:09

    I currently run a library that doesn’t have fines. It’s nice not to argue with patrons over ten cents but it also has it’s pitfalls:

    1. Your circ will go down not up. There’s no incentive to renew anything so people don’t.

    2. Your overdue notices will go up. People have no reason to return things on time so some of them don’t. (But there’s late people at every library). We circ about 59,000 items a year and have about 30 overdue notices a week. We call, we send letters, and until they are finally charged for an item they just don’t show up. You can count on more of your staff’s time going to chasing down late items.

    My philosophy has always been to get the stuff back. I will most likely recommend to my board to begin charging fines starting in 4th quarter next year. I will happily waive any fine that people POLITELY ask me to waive. I would just like the materials back with as little hassle as possible.

  15. GeekChic
    09Aug07 at 10:03

    Hi Jessamyn, My responses are in square brackets.

    – Do you have different fines for different media? [Yes. A/V are ten times higher. However, there are no fines on children’s materials of any sort, though we will bill for lost/damaged children’s materials. We also use a collection agency.]
    – Do you have a grace period after the due date but before fines are levied? [No.]
    – Does it make sense to remove fines but still bill for lost/damaged books? [Yes. Different thing entirely.]
    – Do you have a “conscience jar” and if so, do people use it? [We don’t have a conscience jar.]
    – Do you think fines really encourage people to bring materials back on time? [Yes. Our patrons also believe this according to our user surveys.]
    – Do you think removing fines meant that you got fewer materials back on time? [More of our children’s materials go to the collection agency on average than items that have fines – if that means anything.]
    – Do you think having a catalog that allowed people to place holds on checked-out materials lessens the need for fines? [No. People are not that considerate to think about others.]

  16. amy
    09Aug07 at 10:31

    When I started my current job (director of a small public library), I was astounded when they showed me the budget and I took a look at the line item for fines. $10,000. So, eliminating fines would be a huge financial hit for us. I have heard many stories of libraries whose revenue went up with a conscience jar. But since our Friends’s donation jar has been stolen 3 times over the last four years, I’m not sure that would really work for us. We do have a hierarchy of fines. $.10 for children’s items, $.20 for adult items, $1.00 for videos and DVDs, no grace period for anything. However, fines are always flexible. Family member was in the hospital? Waive the fines. Down with a really bad case of the flu? Waive the fines. Owe $60 for a whole bunch of books returned two weeks late? Pay the fine for one book. Fire destroyed everything? We’ll wipe your account clean (this has happened with two families in our community in the past year). We’re also really pushing Library ELF now for our chronic late returners (since our system is reluctant to turn on e-mail notification in our ILS). I try and emphasize as much as possible that fines are not written in stone and that we’re always open to negotiation so that people don’t fear the book that slipped under the car seat two months ago.

  17. tuwa
    09Aug07 at 11:26

    Someone in circulation at the local library told me that fines were suspended after studies showed that a number of people were not returning the items once the fines approached the cost of the item itself. (I guess what the library was thinking of was the cost of reacquiring and cataloging the items? Not sure really, and I don’t know if that study’s public.)

    Our library doesn’t have fines, but it does blocks accounts if the patron has any item two days or more overdue. There is also a limit to how many A/V items can be checked out at once, and patrons are charged for any items destroyed through negligence/abuse/malice.

    I guess it all works well enough; at least, there haven’t been any fines at the library for the six years or so since I’ve been visiting it. My motivation for returning items on time is to be allowed to continue checking out new books, CDs, and movies.

  18. Meg
    10Aug07 at 9:01

    Fines approached the cost of the item itself? That seems weird to me. Most libraries I’ve known have had a cap at how high a fine for a single item can go, and it’s nowhere near the cost to replace the item. (For example, one former place of employment capped fines for children’s items at $3 and fines for adult’s items at $5.)

  19. tuwa
    10Aug07 at 9:57

    I couldn’t say if it was atypical; I just know that’s what the lady said. I’d hope it’s not common, since it would seem to be a prompt for people to keep something they obviously like a lot. ^_^

    I know the library does still mark missing any items kept overdue past a certain amount of time, and then assesses a charge for replacement, which seems like roughly the same thing. Occasionally that will prompt someone to return an item but the scuttlebutt is that most times it doesn’t.

    I’m not sure why they dropped the fines but kept the replacement charge; I guess they felt they had to draw a line somewhere.

  20. Elysia
    10Aug07 at 10:56

    I work for a specialty resource library that focuses on one specific profession. We are run by the state government and so, because of our funding, are not allowed to receive outside funds such as late fees.

    However, we do not advertise this fact. It seems that many of our patrons return items and shyly ask how much they owe us. Our head clerk usually does a good job of acting, saying ‘Well just this once…’ We fear that if our no late fee policy was known we’d never get items returned.

    We do have a limit (3 weeks) on how long items can be checked out. To enforce this one staff member spends a large amount of her time tracking overdue items, sending out letters, making calls, and even putting blocks or canceling cards if need be. This seems to get patrons attention…but only those patrons who regularly use our center.

    Our center is not large and like most state programs, funding can be hard to come by. If someone loses a resource we ask them to donate a high quality resource in return. However, we do have many resources that we simply cannot replace and I suspect a fair number of patrons that, rather than deal with the embarassment of having lost or forgotten resources, simply never come back to our center.

  21. Ken Haycock
    10Aug07 at 11:17

    Let’s reposition the question:
    [a] why do only the police and the library “fine” people? why don’t we at least change our language to, perhaps, an extended use fee (this is more than semantics–it is an option not punishment);
    [b] how can we say we promote reading when we fine children? Isn’t this contrary to our values when we know that fines mean less use by children?

  22. Marianne
    10Aug07 at 11:39

    In 1991 I did a survey of Vermont public libraries and found that only 37.5% charged fines, 18% had conscience boxes, and 45% did not charge fines at all. The larger the library, the more apt it was to charge something. Some librarians and trustees feel charging fines “promotes responsibility” and serves as a “threat.” In my view, the possibility of fines just keeps people who need the materials the most from borrowing stuff in the first place. It is an antiquated practice that should be abolished!

  23. sammy
    10Aug07 at 3:23

    I work in an academic library, and fines are the only thing the work sadly – for a long time, faculty and phd students were not fined – and had a very long (1 year!) circ period – and yet they still would not bring books back on time, or sometimes not at all.

    But when we started fining them – just 10 cents a day – that was a different story. The books started coming back with a venegance. It was amazing.

    And yeah, the increase in revenue – even the small bump – helped us keep some photocopiers running that were going to be retired.

  24. rachael
    10Aug07 at 7:26

    My library charges 0.25 per day for all media. We have no grace period.

    I think that it does make sense to remove fines but still bill for damaged/lost books. The purpose of a fine is to encourage prompt return–if the item’s back, all’s well that ends well (theoretically). But if the patron has lost the book, they’ve taken a resource away from the community permanently, and they are responsible for reimbursing us all.

    Fines are somewhat effective–but there are a lot of variables–individual personalities, financial situations–all too often they hurt the people who have a few too many hurts in their lives.

    [I cannot end this comment without adding: My mother’s family had a farm in Tunbridge for many generations. So reading your blog is a nice mix of professional development & nostalgia.]

  25. 10Aug07 at 10:10

    I probably hold the rare distinction of being one of the few librarians to ever have had their state income tax refund garnished because of unpaid fines. In that instance, I was in the right and the University of Maryland was in the wrong, but their process couldn’t understand that you just don’t change the loan period on books when a person leaves employment.

    The other day I ran across a paper I wrote in library school in 1989 that looked at arguments against charging fines and fees in libraries. Back then I was hoping to become a reference librarian in a public library. Since then I rarely step into a public library and fines are the main reason.

    There is no reason for libraries to charge fines like they traditionally do. If they need the money, they should go to their funding sources and ask for more funds. Fines discriminate against poor people. Fines discourage people from using the library. Why is a public library in such a hurry to get a book back in three weeks? If nobody wants it and I return it eventually, why bother with the fines? The people running the library may think that $25 in fines isn’t much money, but for a poor person or an unemployed person, $25 is alot of money. If you have a grocery budget of $75-100 a week, how in the world is it fair for a library to levy fines, even if they are capped at $25?

    I’m an avid book reader and librarian. I’m also a working class person without much money. I’ve gotten so tired of public library fines over the years that I just stopped using libraries. I’d buy books, borrow them from friends, or just read stuff on the Internet. If I’m soured on public libraries, how many other people stopped going because of fines?

    I’ve started going to public libraries more this year, but once again I’m dealing with the headache of fines and renewals. I’ve started doing something I’ve always been against–using the automated check out machines. I’m using them now so I don’t have to deal with the circ clerks asking me every time if I want to pay down my fines.

    Abolish fines!

  26. Ananke
    11Aug07 at 7:40

    I generally, even as a below-the-poverty-line student, just returned the damn books. Because I knew that there are books, and people, who just don’t get the holds process. Either the person doesn’t understand/like/want to pay for it/can’t pay for it, or it’s something they don’t want to place a hold for (i.e. books about being a survivor, sex books, ‘trashy’ books).

    Then there’s the value of browsing. It isn’t enough to say ‘no-one wants it’ because they mightn’t know it yet. I don’t know if I want that particular book until I come across it, which certainly won’t happen if it’s sitting forgotten under someone’s bed.

    I’m not a big fan of excusing people for being either lazy, ignorant or selfish. I’d abolish fines if they weren’t that much help in controlling circulation, but they are. The people who abandon the library because they don’t want to have to follow rules are gonna do it regardless. The people who take off with books because they’re embarrassed or pissed off have bigger issues than fines.

  27. 12Aug07 at 11:19

    I’ve finally started thinking of fines as a sort of user fee. When you get a card at my library you agree (on the app) that you’ll follow our rules and regs, including honoring due dates. If you don’t we charge you a nominal daily fee. I don’t think of it as punishment or motivation so much as a surcharge for using materials beyond the agreed-upon time. Splitting hairs, I guess… My circ staff know they can waive anything up to $5 with no questions asked. Some of our patrons carry fines all the time (you can owe up to $15 and still check things out), some come to the desk and ask to pay the fine for a book that’s one day over due. There are habitual offenders no matter what system you use, and others who’re ultra conscious of their due dates. Most of us fall somewhere in between.

    I have more trouble with the folks who’re outraged that I charge the retail cost to replace an item. Often they go to WalMart or Borders and grab a new copy of a damaged item and bring it in without talking to me first — when I charge them $2 to reprocess the item they get mad because they’ve already done me this huge favor. Don’t get me started on the people who research audio books at amazon and want to know why I can’t just replace the recorded books library version with the $30 retail version…

  28. judith
    12Aug07 at 12:24

    I like to imagine a future where software can handle really variable requests and you can have different contractual obligations for different books/media/resources. I think we’re starting to see this now with downloadable files that expire after a certain time.

    For my pleasure reading/listening/viewing, I am thrilled to have free access to expensive books and media and am happy to fulfill my end of the contract and respect other patrons’ access to popular media by returning things on time and/or paying negligible fines.

    I’m finding this difficult when doing research, though, and wishing I had the option to check out low-circulating materials for extended periods (ideally till someone else requests them, but more realistically 2-3 months…) and applies some sort of popularity algorithm for calculating loan periods and/or fines.

    Of course, this would only work with really good software in place, with a web client for patrons and various non-headache-provoking overrides for libraries.

  29. Eoin
    13Aug07 at 12:05

    I work for a European public library service and the ethos with regards to fines is not that they should be regarded as a penalty or punishment but rather viewed as an incentive to return materials in a timely fashion.

    There are one or two further issues that might need consideration in general; firstly nobody wishes to deter junior readers and I would generally be in favour of setting a fines ‘cap’ on junior memberships.
    Secondly if fines accrued approach or exceed the replacement costs of the borrowed items then we are actively providing a disincentive to returning late loans. Additionally, I would personally favour waiving or seriously restricting fines in cases where people wish to pay replacement costs for lost / irreparably damaged items as, if a patron is sufficiently good to come in to pay, it almosts seems to add insult to injury.

    Lastly, a user-oriented service must always allow front-line staff a margin to vary or waive fines depending on personal circumstance, particularly with relation to homeless, junior or very elderly patrons. Providing an excellent service, without contrived ‘barriers’, to ALL the community should be prioritised over revenue gain once a modicum of common sense and good judgement is retained in doing so.

  30. N. Narayanan kutty
    15Aug07 at 10:52

    Do you have different fines for different media?
    Flat rate
    – Do you have a grace period after the due date but before fines are levied?
    No
    – Does it make sense to remove fines but still bill for lost/damaged books?
    Yes
    – Do you have a “conscience jar” and if so, do people use it?
    We had it, now discontinued

    – Do you think fines really encourage people to bring materials back on time?
    Yes & No
    – Do you think removing fines meant that you got fewer materials back on time?
    No

    – Do you think having a catalog that allowed people to place holds on checked-out materials lessens the need for fines?
    Yes

    I wish to implement [only for those who don’t consider overdue charge as revenue]

    A conscience box – the collected amount should go for charity – [display the purpose and where the collected amount would

    go clearly on the box]. I feel that patrons will be happy to pay the overdue charge. Circulation librarian will find it easy to convince
    the patrons who are late to return. Moreover accounting can be totally avoided, no need to keep change to give the balance [Patron can drop little more or less in the box] and feel happy that it is going for a genuine purpose.

    Email reminder is the best method to get the books back on time as delivery is ensured. It will be nice to send advance

    Reminder [before the due date], Personal requests to return the documents. If the patron sets an auto reply indicating he is out-of-station library can wave overdue when he returns – or can think of renewing the documents, quote the library rule at the end of the request to invite the attention of the patron

    Announce no-fine week/month so that we give patron a chance to return the documents without overdue charges

    Reward patrons by announcing the names who transacted more documents with no overdue charges

    Talk to patrons personally who hold the documents for long and find a solution

    Set a time to return the document and then recover the current cost + procurement charges [this decision should be firm]

    Conduct a survey and ask the patrons to suggest an alternative – after all the patrons will suffer one day or other if a document required by them is not returned on time

    VSSC Library, ISRO PO, Trivandrum, PIN 695 022, India

  31. 15Aug07 at 4:22

    Many librarians are “poor”. Well, “underpaid” anyway. That is the self-perception of the profession, right? Are we biased against higher fines by nature? We moved from $.05/day with a cap to $.10/day with the same cap a few years ago. In general, I’d say people still laugh at how low our fines are. I envy the $.25/day crowd and think you can make an good argument for HIGHER fines as both a revenue-raiser and an incentive to return items.

    As long as you have a cap on them, have a liberal renewal policy, AND allow staff to waive trivial amounts (say, $5-$10) to avoid the irate “more trouble than they’re worth” types, higher fines seem like a way to get people to take seriously their responsibility to return items in a timely fashion. I once had a patron immediately threaten to contact her lawyer over a $.25 fine. Of course I waived it, but that’s just idiotic and not worth fighting over. If they don’t want to come back over such a ridiculously low amount, someone else will be there for us if the item has appeal.

    Yeah, patrons pay the taxes and it is “their” library etc. etc. blah blah, but that doesn’t give them to the right to practically “own” the book with such minimal consequences. A $.25/day overdue fine isn’t the outrage we seem to think it is, IMO. Those calling for an “extended use fee” seem to thinking correctly about this issue. If you’re worried about a drop in circulation, you (and your patrons) aren’t putting much value on your collection.

  32. mishjmo
    15Aug07 at 5:44

    *Fines discriminate against poor people.*

    No, fines discriminate against irresponsible people.

    * Fines discourage people from using the library.*

    Fines discourage irresponsible people from using the library.

    *Why is a public library in such a hurry to get a book back in three weeks? If nobody wants it and I return it eventually, why bother with the fines?*

    Fines encourage people to return the book and if they do not, at least they are not using MORE books that people may want.

    *The people running the library may think that $25 in fines isn’t much money, but for a poor person or an unemployed person, $25 is alot of money.*

    People know the deal when they check the books out. If you can’t pay the fine, return the book on time.

    Seriously, how difficult is that to understand?

    *If you have a grocery budget of $75-100 a week, how in the world is it fair for a library to levy fines, even if they are capped at $25?*

    If you don’t have a fine budget of 25 dollars a week, ensure that you do not run up a fine of 25 dollars in that week.

    *I’m an avid book reader and librarian. I’m also a working class person without much money. I’ve gotten so tired of public library fines over the years that I just stopped using libraries.*

    Apparently you’re a pretty poor librarian if you can’t return a book on time.

    *I’d buy books, borrow them from friends, or just read stuff on the Internet. If I’m soured on public libraries, how many other people stopped going because of fines?*

    Just the irresponsible ones who don’t have money, I guess.

  33. 16Aug07 at 4:06

    mishjmo, I want to work with more people who think like you! Spot freaking on, cutting through so much of the librarian-think nonsense on this issue.

  34. Chris
    16Aug07 at 9:32

    Well, I read mishjmo’s comments a different way. The impression I got was poor people are irresponsible and we need to protect the rights of some invisible majority of upright people, who know how to live the “right” way. What bugs me about this is the value judgement – if we look at it in purely economic terms, maybe some people choose to pay the fines instead of the hassle of having to get the item back on time. It’s the right of the user to allocate his own resources as he sees fit. But that’s not how the self-righteous library person sees it, oh no! This late person is irresponsible! (A conclusion arrived at by someone who probably doesn’t have to pay fines, by the way. I wonder, if library staff had to get docked pay for late materials, if the perspective would shift a bit.) We don’t really know why some people return things late – maybe they ARE irrespinsible, maybe they don’t care, maybe this is the one time they forgot, maybe there is a personal crisis at home, maybe they weren’t done reading/watching/listening. Whatever! That doesn’t give us the right to assume, or judge, or condescend. But that’s what some of us do. And it builds resentment between staff and customer. And bottom line? That’s bad for the future of libraries.

  35. 16Aug07 at 11:44

    I didn’t read where mishjmo said that poor people are irresponsible, Chris. His/her comment

    *Fines discriminate against poor people.*
    No, fines discriminate against irresponsible people.

    …does not say poor people are irresponsible. Does it? Now maybe the term “irresponsible” is a bit strong, but isn’t it true that someone who is not turning their items in on time is either a) willing to eat the agreed upon cost or b) breaking the agreement and responsible for the set fees? What about the resentment toward the librarian when they can’t provide an item that would be back on the shelf if another patron didn’t have it overdue? You don’t think daily scenario pisses off patrons?

    If a successful future for libraries is dependent upon the elimination of fines/extended use fees/whatever you call them, libraries are already a lost cause, IMO.

  36. mishjmo
    20Aug07 at 12:57

    *Well, I read mishjmo’s comments a different way. The impression I got was poor people are irresponsible and we need to protect the rights of some invisible majority of upright people, who know how to live the “right” way. *

    You read the comment incorrectly. Try it again without your bias.

    *if we look at it in purely economic terms, maybe some people choose to pay the fines instead of the hassle of having to get the item back on time.*

    Hassle? Is there nowhere else in the world where there is a time-limit involved? How do these people keep jobs? “Gosh, I’d rather get fired and go on the dole than deal with the hassle of showing up at 8:00 a.m. every day! Gosh, I’d rather get chucked out of my house or lose my car rather than deal with the hassle of sending in the check and payment voucher on time!”

    Enough with the excuses, already. Since when did librarians become enablers of irresponsibility? Aren’t there enough people handing out ‘Get Out Of Jail Free’ cards in America already today?

  37. Aaron
    07Sep07 at 3:25

    I’ve read most of the posts in this thread and I’m surprised that so many people are missing the obvious.

    Libraries that think they need fines should keep them but give the librarian and the patron other options.

    There are so many. If you can’t pay the fine, you can volunteer, donate books, food, other items, or make an appeal to have the fine waived or reduced. Payment plans could allow the patron to keep using the library but limit them to less items checked out at a time until the fine is reduced.Libraries should establish funds specifically to pay off fines for patrons who can do none of the above. This should be in their budget requests.

    Or combinations of the above.

    The people who can pay fines will because it will save them time and hassle. The people who can’t will make the appointment and show up if they wanna use the library. Plus, all libraries should have donation jars all the time.

    I am shocked by the people posting here who feel fines are just. Sure they may be tough to do without for some-but we should not be ok with that long term. Fines would only be just if we all made similar incomes. Some patrons don’t even have homes.

    The question is not “are consequences good?” (they are)
    -but “is a fines only system fair?”, and the answer is no.
    So the next question is to develop the alternatives.

  38. james
    08Sep07 at 1:30

    mishjmo,

    America has the largest percentage of its population in jail, compared to any country in the world. There are more prisoners than farmers. It is one of only 2 western countries to still have grand juries. It has the highest numerical number of prisoners compared to any other country as well. So perhaps your last comment was not apt.

    I’ve noticed that if a limiting factor effects us, its called a reason. If it doesn’t, or we don’t understand it, it is called an excuse.

  39. kruthy
    11Sep07 at 1:08

    Aaron, I could not disagree with you more.

    If a library doesn’t want to “fine”, then…that’s fine. But saying that those that do “fine” are also responsible for setting up alternatives like volunteering (not really “volunteering” if you are doing it to pay off a debt), donating books or food, etc. is silly. If a library wants to fool with all that, go for it, I guess, but I think it is irresponsible and a waste of time and public funds. The “donation jar” we all have is the tax dollar! Establishing a fund to pay off fines for people is a waste of tax dollars, and an insult to those taxpayers.

    Patrons with outstanding fines at most, if not all, libraries may still “use” the library. To my knowledge, no one is keeping them from entering the building, using databases, reading books and magazines, using our reference materials, etc. They just can’t check anything out until their fines are under a certain level. Simple as that. And it really is AS SIMPLE AS THAT. All this bending over backwards to clear fines for those who agreed to follow the library’s rules when they received a card is ludicrous. All the things you propose strike me as less fair than a straight fines-only system. Fines would only be just if we all made similar incomes? Maybe those without the income to pay their debts just have the added “burden” of making certain they don’t accrue fines. Maybe that isn’t ‘fair” to you, but that’s life.

  40. Erin
    18Oct07 at 7:58

    In Southfield, Michigan a lost book costs $100. This state fucking sucks!

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