Debt collectors go after overdue books

Debt collectors go after overdue books is a piece sent in by Charley Hively on the growing number of publics turning to stronger tactics to track down overdue material. Ignore the traditional overdue notice, and you may hear from a debt-collection agency.
Many libraries across the country are resorting to the tactic — with surprising success. Unique Management Services, a collection agency based in Jeffersonville, Ind., says nearly 600 libraries now use its services to locate tardy materials. About 70% of the people respond when contacted by the company, says Kenes Bowling, manager of customer development. [Link fixed]


I worked at a library that used this company, and it really did help get our books back more quickly and more fines paid.

Just got a letter from the Lubbock Public Library for a couple of books I forgot about. It clearly states that at 45 days overdue my account will be turned over to a collection agency.

I think it's a fair policy. 45 days is plenty of time since at that point you'd have something in your possession for over 2 months.

Blake, don't know how it happened, but the link in the first post links to itself!

Here's the real>.

I was curious about other libraries fine rates were since we are sort of on the subject here.

At the library I work at (a university library), we charge 35 cents per day per item for regularly circulating books, with a maximum fine of $28.00 per item (unless the item was recalled or damaged). Our recall fine rate is $2.00 per day per item. We have reserve items that can range in fine rates of $2.00 per hour to $2.00 per day with a maximum fine of $100.00 per item.

Our replacement costs are usually the cost of the item plus a $25.00 processing fee. Damage charges are $15.00 per item, plus any applicable late charges.

I worked at a public library who used Unique. They found it worked, but that is was expensive. After a year, they decided to do the same work on their own without Unique. I guess you don't have to be a collection agency to report grossly overdue patrons to credit agencies.

Whoa, those fines seem high. They seem high to me as a college librarian, let alone as a student. I'd never have been able to afford grad school with $2.00/hr overdue fines (you take out a 2 hour book an hour before the library closes so you can have it overnight, forget to drop it back before the library opens because you are so groggy with sleep deprivation, and then in the middle of your afternoon class you have a heart attack as you remember...)

Do fines that high work as a better disincentive against bad behavior than lower fines, or not? How many impecunious students do you have crying and/or screaming in the library offices over these fines? I'm really curious. The damage and processing fees, on the other hand, seem eminently reasonable.

We use Unique, and after our system software conversion we suspended their services for months until we were sure that the new system was working correctly and the data had coverted correctly (not that that day ever came, actually). Our "billed as lost" books returned at a measurably greater rate after we resumed service with Unique. If I'm dealing with a patron who is returning books that were billed as lost, I can almost guarantee that their record carries the little code that indicates that they were sent to collections. Even withholding their grades and blocking their course registration is less effective than sending them to collections.

And it isn't the money. We don't particularly care about fines (they go to the general fund). We'd MUCH rather have the materials back than the replacement money, and Unique does a good job of achieving that.

We do have some people complaining but it is mostly the ones with small fines that are five and under that we get the most complaints from. I've gotten a death threat over fines that were for books that were several years overdue (I think the fine was for around $90.00 in that case). But for the most part, the majority of students pay without comment but seem to try to not return books late again. We do get 'repeat offenders' but I think that no matter what the fine rate would be, there will always be a percentage of students that come in every semester to open up their wallets to us. However, we also check out dvds and videos and many students comment that our rates are lower than the video rental places late fees.

We keep our rates the same as other area university libraries. We peek at other library fine rates accasionally and I remember being shocked at how much SMU (Southern Methodist University) charged.

I wonder if there is a way that libraries could compare fine rates with overdue period lengths to see if the higher fine rates make a difference or not. I'm not sure how our rates affect the return times since I just have experience in the one library.

It's about time libraries used debt collection agencies to recover overdue books and unpaid fines. Libraries need to be respected and valued more than it has in the past.