Suburban libraries enforce penalties for overdue books


Suburban libraries in the US are getting tired of patrons who owe hundreds of dollars in missing and late materials. The main aim of libraries doing this is not to 'make money', as many claim, but as a way of ensuring their collection is available to all members.

Are public libraries really being excessive in doing this? Is it wrong for them to try and retrieve items that should have been returned long ago? Read the article in The Detroit News and have your say!!


Interesting article. I don't charge fines at my school library, but if the child doesn't return his or her book, then she or he cannot get another until the first one is returned. I do charge if the book is lost/damaged, but I'll take money OR another book of similar value in good condition.

While I can understand the patrons points of view presented in this article, I'm still too much of a Library Tech to have much sympathy for them. If you sign a book out and forget or are too busy to return them (just how much time does it take to use the book drop, btw?) then you pay your fines! I don't think that's too hard to understand. One of the video stores I rent from, when you get your card from them, you've agreed to their rule that if you're late, they automatcially charge you for another rental period.

As for "nickle and diming", well, if it was just one or two people with $25 plus outstanding fines, maybe I'd think it was nickle and diming to send it to a collection agency, but if you have 4 people with $25 worth of fines, that's $100! Which, for a public library may not seem much, but that's 10% of my annual budget! A lot of people don't take book fines seriously because for so long, many libraries haven't put teeth into enforcing or going after the money owed. While I'm on the fence with the collection agency thing, I _do_ understand why a library might chose to do that. If you have hundreds or thousands of patrons with $25, or even $10 fines, that's a lot of money.

Heck, I work in a library and I'm often late returning my books to the public library. Although now that our public system allows patrons to renew their books online (unless the book is on request or past it's due date) I've been a little better. In our system, once you hit $30 in fines, you can no longer check anything out. They just won't do it. If you pay down your fine so it's under $30--even $29.75 you can sign out a book. Every few months, I hit the $10 mark--cus even with the online renewal system, I still forget--and I'm more than happy to pay them. After all, it's my responsibility, so I look after it. Hmm, responsibility...


We pay our shelvers out of our overdue money. It's not money that the library is using to make a quick profit... it's money that provides library services. Without shelvers, support staff (and possibly librarians) would spend more time shelving books than doing what they were hired to do... help the public, process ILL, whatever. People seem to think that we use the thirty cent fines here and there to buy penny candy for ourselves. It's real cash, folks...

As for replacing books you've (less likely) stolen or (more likely) lost, well, yeah. As slashgirl says, it's your responsibility. It's not the library's fault, or the next person in line to take out The Da Vinci Code's fault that you lost public property entrusted to your care.

I noticed people in the article seemed to think this was targeted towards theives or people who are occasionally late. Of course it isn't. No library is going to go through the hassle of calling in a collection agency over a dollar fine. No library is going to immediately assume you intentionally stole a book when you accidently lost it. But still, it comes down to responsibility.

We suspend borrowing privileges after $5 in fines. We will take money to replace a lost or damaged book, or the same copy of the book in new condition. We also charge a processing fee for any extra cataloging tasks. The processing fee irks people, but it does get them to be a little more careful next time.

I think it must be my years as a circulation clerk in a large-ish public library system, but I have no sympathy at all with people who grumble about overdue fees. If they were taking videos out from Blockbuster and "forgot" to return them on time they would pay a fee. If they forgot to return them altogether I would imagine that Blockbuster may send a collection agency after them, as the videos are Blockbuster's property, not the renters.

My library made use of collection agencies. I think if a patron owed more than $25 in fees and materials for more than 3 months they would be referred. In that time they had been sent at least two letters from the library and received two or three phone calls asking them to clear up the matter and warning them that the next step was collections. I reckon that other libraries have similar policies in place. This article makes it sound like patrons are just referred to collections the day items are overdue which is simply not the case.
Libraries need to protect their collections. Books are indeed for use, but they are for everyone's use. The best way to insure the return of books, in my experience, was through fines, letters and calls from the library, and finally through collection agencies. We almost always got our materials back or fines paid, once the collection agency was called in.

Just my two cents (haha!)