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Are library late fees inherently discriminatory?

Blogger wolfshowl asks, "Are library late fees inherently discriminatory and classist?" in the post "On Library Late Fees"

Any library, whether public, academic, school, or special, is about providing equal service to all members of its community. Although patrons may be split into groups that are treated somewhat differently, such as children’s versus adult’s cards in public libraries, those divisions are usually based on proven responsibility and need. Some argue that late fees are charged evenly across all groups, so they are fair, but I’m not so sure.

Full post here: On Library Late Fees


the blogger complains about negative comments on lisnews, yet this entry has no comments at all.

Anyway, his basic theory is flawed in that he believes because the same punishment effects different people differently, it is discriminatory. I cannot accept this logic. Point A does not lead at all to point B.

My guess is that the comments are on that blog and that she moderates them. Since she's not posting them we have no way of knowing what people are writing.

Under her logic, if the single mother and the middle class woman were caught speeding and each given a ticket, it would be more of a punishment for the single mother than the middle class woman due to the fact that the middle age woman could pay the fine (or even be able to fight it in court or get a lawyer) as opposed to the single mother. Thus, since the single mother is less capable of fighting or paying the ticket, the punishment is discriminatory and should be eliminated. To this point, I disagree.

Personally, I'd like to hear more about the logistics of a floating inventory. Nancy Dowd at the M Word Blog talked about libraries treating materials as "lending with the option of buying"; that is, people could borrow them and opt to buy them from the library. If people opted to buy a new book, the automation system would order a new book. I wouldn't float it out over three months (especially with new books), but it was an intriguing idea. (Not without aspects worth further examination, such as being a government entity buying and selling to the general public.)

My concern is her contempt for people who took the time to comment. You can't proclaim to invite a dialogue and then not like the people who write (I'll concede any comment that poses a personal attack). I find it odd that you would proclaim most librarians to not be progressive enough on one hand while engaging in censorship by not posting any comments that disagree on the other.

All of the negative comments contained personal attacks. It was frankly disgusting.

I know for a FACT that my comment contained NO PERSONAL ATTACKS. Attacking the logic (or non-logic) of an argument is NOT A PERSONAL ATTACK. I said nothing in my comment that was about you as an individual person. I did not name call, I did not make assumptions about your intelligence or experience. I did not call you a "reactionary dimwit". I simply said why I thought no-fines would work and used specific examples from my own experience in a public library working in circulation.

What's disgusting is someone who claims they want a discussion, but shuts down the comments because people did not agree with your point/did not phrase their comments in the "open" way you wanted them to.

I'm not associated with the blog, but if you were talking about the structure of her argument instead of the issues she raised, then your comment probably added very little to the discussion. This wasn't a thesis, it was a blog post.

And you may not have gone negative there, but you certainly have there. It's not "disgusting" to shut down comments, respected bloggers like Walt Crawford do it all the time.

This is what it is:

- There was a blog post written regarding the discussion about the topic "Are fines discriminatory?" This post puts forth the argument that they are and offers a remedy. While it does not overtly invite discussion on the topic ("What do you think?" or something similar), it has comments enabled.

- A link to the blog post and a little blurb are posted on LISNews anonymously. The post is approved for the front page. It is added to the front page, the LISNews twitter account is updated, and the story is open to comment here along with the link to the original blog post.

- People follow the link, read the post, and offer comments. The content of those comments are unknown to everyone but the poster and the blogger. The blogger refuses to approve them on the basis of being "entirely reactive and not open to dialogue and, frankly, indicative of the stick in the mud, 'we’ve always done it this way ehnnn' librarian I see far too often. They also have been insulting, implying that I have no idea what I’m doing." Without the actual comments to examine, there is nothing but the word of the blogger and anyone who posted a comment as to specifics of the content.

As a result:
- The discussion becomes about the blogger, not the content of their post.

I'd write more on it, but since the blogger is shutting down dialogue on this issue (despite raising it in their post), why bother?

and for my own morbid curiosity, what constitutes a personal attack? What were these people saying that was beyond the pale of decorum?

I was not criticizing the structure of her argument itself in my original comment to her blog. Every point she made, I made a counter-argument or at least presented alternate scenarios in which her points were not valid/had flaws. I said nothing whatsoever in my original comment that had anything to do with her personally (or how she presented her argument).

And yes, I may be a bit negative about her shutting down comments. I never got to see a single comment, so I have no basis to analyze the comments for myself (as AndyW has pointed out) to see if they "all" contained personal attacks. I'm sure some did, but I know at least one that did not.

What's disgusting to me is not necessarily the shutting down of comments, but of her blatant hypocrisy in calling people out on personal attacks--then personally attacking the commenters and generalizing those comments. It's her blog, she can shut the comments down. That's her right and sole discretion. I just find fault in her methods after the fact. (So, is that a personal attack? Just because I say that her actions/words contradict each other?) I've seen threads shut down here on LISNews and those in charge haven't editorialized the commenters as "reactionary dimwits".

That is a ridiculous argument

It's not a bad thought, or post - and is something we should think about - my concern is that the blog post hits quickly upon a topic with little to no thought as to how it had been handled in the past, or what the arguments on each side are. A lit review would help the blog author immensely (and probably help him/her deal with comments they didnt like) - it's not a new argument by any means, nor is it one ignored in the literature. An excerpt from a forthcoming proceedings paper for the Brick & Click conference in November 2010:

"Another author considers both the positive and negative effects of assessing library fines for overdue materials, pointing out that the argument to support the use of fines can be summarized in three parts: “ensuring stock is efficiently circulated; ensuring library users to be community-minded; and to raise income” (McMenemy 79). The argument against fines is essentially that such charges present a barrier to accessing the collections, which, while problematic, does not create such a barrier to use that it should outweigh should allow “efficient and equitable circulation” of the library’s materials (McMenemy 81)."

Article: McMenemy. “On Library Fines: Ensuring Civic Responsibility or an Easy Income Stream?” Library Review 59.2 (2010): 78-81. Emerald Group Publishing. PDF. 21 July 2010.

There are any number of other articles out there (and some MS theses available online) that have further findings & well-designed data collection that speak to the issue of the impact of fines of different groups. It's hard to win an argument with anecdata - when it devolves into stories/opinions/etc., I'd hope that a librarian would look to research - or walk away - instead of getting snippy, or cutting conversation off altogether.


There was a news article on here within the last year talking about libraries (in England, perhaps) dropping fines entirely. They only charge for lost, I believe. One of the Movers & Shakers from last year got libraries in Massachusetts to forgive fines on the cards of children all over the Boston area. There was an article in the New York Times of an unemployed man who shelved books to pay off his card; they ended up offering him a part time job.

There are some alternatives to fines out there; it's up to public libraries to research, experiment, and test what might work for them.

that whoever put together the submission for LIS News didn't bother to read closely enough to see that I'm not an "anonymous patron." My name is on the blog, and I am a librarian.

Whoever wrote this comment didn't bother to read closely enough to see that "anonymous patron" was the person who submitted this to LIS News, it had nothing to do with the blog and what anyone does for a living.

The 'anonymous patron' refers to the person who submitted your blog post to LISNews, not to you. Either this person doesn't have an account on LISNews or they had forgotten to sign in and therefore showed up as 'anonymous patron'.

Not everything is a personal insult.

I tend to make "controversial" posts to library mailing lists and blogs, and get my fair share of public and private comments. Some agree, some disagree, some are angry, etc. That's all part of a public discussion. If the original blogger is so oversensitive that she feels the need to shut out the comments of those who disagree with her (including those that do so in a rude manner), she doesn't really understand the nature of the Internet.

In my experience, far too many librarians bristle easily at any dissension to their posts or comments. It's time for them to learn the difference between online discussion/debate and sitting with a close friend talking over lunch.

To borrow a bit from Edward R Murrow, don't confuse dissent with disloyalty. A difference of opinion does not mean I love the library less than another, it's just a matter of perspective.