I understand the hesitation that large libraries have in eliminating fines. Some of them rack up close to seven figures in fines annually, and that’s a lot of operating budget to lose.
I would challenge smaller libraries whose fines are annually relatively small to make their libraries fine-free. My former library in Sidney, Nebraska was one of those libraries. The staff had convinced the board to eliminate fines before I started my tenure there, and that was fine with me. (no pun intended – really.)
The staff was seeing children who weren’t able to use the library, because their parents couldn’t afford the fines. And that didn’t sit very well. They felt very strongly that those children who could least afford fines were the very children who most needed the library. Additionally, we really didn’t care if you paid a quarter fine – we just wanted the book back! You would get a few notes from us if the book (or whatever – I’m using book as the universal material here) was drastically overdue, reminding you to return it. After three months, you got a bill for the book. It would usually turn up at that point, but we did have folks who would have to pay us for having lost the book.
We would occasionally discuss fines at library meetings in the Nebraska Panhandle, and there were a few libraries who also had eliminated fines. Those who had fines usually had amnesty days on a fairly regular basis, which usually resulted in enormous numbers of materials being dumped on the library on that day. Most of them were seriously considering asking their boards to allow them to eliminate fines, too…and the headaches that went along with them. The sob stories. The truly sad stories. The angry patrons. The forgetful patrons. One creative librarian solved the problem by handing the offending patron (usually a middle-school student) a dust rag, allowing them to dust the library to pay off the fine. Her library was always clean!
What most likely started out as a disincentive to keeping a book too long has become too much of a money-making venture for larger libraries. And that’s a real shame. The kids who aren’t going to the Major City Library because they owe a fine are the very kids who need the Major City Library the most.
Isn’t there a better way to do this?