Friday, October 19, 2007

More on library fines

An anonymous commenter wrote in response to my previous blog post on this topic:

I lost a book and due to not returning library books on time, I know owe close to $500! It's ridiculous now how libraries can send you to collection agencies. I lost a book and they want me to pay $100 for it.

You have my sympathies, anonymous! Normally, libraries only charge for the actual replacement cost of the item, plus a processing fee for recataloging the item (putting it back into the computer system, barcoding it, covering the book jacket, etc.) but that fee sounds rather high. Most libraries also have a cap, or set limit, to the fines on a single item (at my library, it's $6, so even if you keep that DVD for three weeks, we'll only charge you six dollars, not $1/day for three weeks). The collection agencies work to help libraries recover material, and sometimes those threats get people to bring items back... but when this happens, the patrons are alienated, and that's bad for the "business" of the library.

I always make sure to tell patrons who have fines that prevent them from checking out more material that they are welcome to be in the library, and welcome to use the internet (other libraries may have different policies) and other resources while in the library. Some people may get the idea that they are unwanted if they have a fine. That is simply not the case.

How could libraries handle this situation better? How could we get patrons to bring back items, or pay for lost items, without making the patron feel bad about it? We don't want to shame patrons away from the library, but how can we eliminate the bad feelings associated with library fines ("I'm a bad patron," etc.)?

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