Is Prosecution Warranted?


The new trend in libraries is to have the police issue warrants and arrests for overdue meterials. The Los Angeles Times has an article on a few libraries that do not (and will not) do that.\"One of the hallmarks of our library is it is free and open,\" said Susan Kent, the city\'s head librarian. \"Yes, there are really bad offenders, but we\'re not here to prosecute. We\'re here to provide a service.\"
\"That laissez faire attitude is a far cry from the approaches at a growing number of library systems around the country, where officials are cracking down on problem borrowers.\"
\"From Queens, N.Y., to left-leaning Berkeley, librarians are getting tough with overdue-book holders by referring their accounts to collection agencies, threatening them with public embarrassment and even resorting to little-known laws that make stealing library books--public property paid for with tax dollars--as much a crime as pilfering stop signs.\"
\"Libraries typically lose 1% to 1.5% of their collections annually through the checking out of materials that are never returned, experts say.\"
\"Although the percentage is low, in Los Angeles it can represent a sizable number. Of 79,320 items considered missing during the first half of 1999 alone, more than 80% were long-overdue materials, according to a library report.\"
\"Even small libraries, which are coming under closer financial scrutiny, are growing less tolerant of such shrinkage.\"
\"If someone doesn\'t want to bring a book back, then I get an arrest warrant,\" said Dusty Gres, director of a small Georgia library system and one of the leading voices in library circles for going after scofflaws. \"It\'s public property, and I have a responsibility to the public for the books.\"
\"So far a dozen patrons have been hauled into court, but none has gone to jail, said Gres, who runs the 65,000-book system in Vidalia, Ga.\"
\"In Clearwater, Fla., last year a woman spent eight hours in jail after failing to respond to notices about seven books and videotapes borrowed from the local library.\"
\"In Center Line, Mich., early this month police issued warrants for three women with seriously overdue library materials who owed $90 to $222 in fines. Police did not go out and arrest the trio but told them to settle up or face potential arrest if they were ever involved in a routine traffic stop.\"
\"In Texas, library officials united three years ago in an unsuccessful attempt to pass a state law making it illegal to hold overdue library books. The Texas Library Assn. said the measure was needed because a survey of the state\'s 500 libraries showed that they lose $14.5 million worth of books and other items each year.\"

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