Common Sense vs. Allen County

In the never-ending saga of Libraries Who Make Unbelievably Bad Decisions, the Allen County Public Library has just entered itself as a front-runner. Steven Cohen of Library Stuff points to an article in the Journal Gazette in Fort Wayne, Indiana that discusses library fines.

The problem? There are children with fines in excess of $700.

The 10-year-old is being held responsible by the Allen County Public Library for $778 in fines and replacement costs of items checked out in his name. The 5-year-old is also facing fines and replacement fees, although Mason isn’t sure how large those fees are. Mason says library officials won’t tell him. He’ll have to take the child to the library and have him ask how much he owes.

But how do a 5-year-old and a 10-year-old pay such hefty fines? Mason says he’s been told that when they are 18 they’ll be sued for it. Meanwhile, because they owe large fines, they can’t use the library.

Mason doesn’t think that’s right. How can you hold a preschooler and an elementary student responsible for huge fines? At some point, he says, the parent or adult guardian at the time of the abuse has to assume responsibility.

“If I sign for my kid to get a library card, I’m responsible as an adult,” Mason says.

It’s a sticky situation, and it shows how complicated the law can get, says Jeff Krull, library director. Parents don’t have to sign for library cards for their children. This policy allows students coming in with school groups to get cards.

There are a zillion issues with this. Doesn’t this library have a limit on its fines? Personally, I have an issue with fining children – we want them to use the library, to develop a love of books and reading…and then we fine ’em if they don’t return the book they’ve just fallen in love with in a timely fashion. Of course we want the materials returned. But is it really necessary to charge an overdue fee?

Anyway, this library has fines. Whatever. The part that I find fascinating is that “parents don’t have to sign for library cards for their children.” SO…a three-year old can come in and get a library card? Without Mom and Dad giving their OK? I’ve got bad news for the library – if you’re considering the library card application a legal document that would assign responsibility for materials and fines to the signer….then the signer had better be a legal adult. The library is going to SUE these kids for back fines when they turn 18??? Good luck.

In the meantime, they’ve guaranteed that these kids will never step foot in a library again.




Filed under Customer Service, Libraries and Librarianship

4 responses to “Common Sense vs. Allen County

  1. Tom Pearson

    I too have several ZILLION issues with this news story (and with people’s knee-jerk reactions to it).
    1. Did the college student involved EVER report the library card (and items subsequently checked out on it) stolen to the police, and did she make a claim with her insurance company (ditto for the parents/guardians of the children mentioned)? Surely these actions would help her case if the library should ever sue her.
    2. A child ANY age can sign for a library card without parent/guardian consent? Can the child then check out ANY circulating item? Parents have NO right of access to the borrowing records of children of any age? What’s wrong with this picture, Indiana Legislature (hint- EVERYTHING! ) ?
    3. Sue a child when he or she comes of age? Good luck selling THAT to a court!
    4. If the annual library loss figure stated is accurate, this library REALLY needs to tighten up circulation policies, and to vigorously pursue blatant abusers.
    5. I’m assuming that the charges/other details about individual cases are supplied by the individuals involved, since the library supposedly CAN’T comment on individual borrowing records. So why is everyone commenting on this news story assuming that every borrower quoted has his/her facts straight/is telling the truth? Librarians, PLEASE start questioning what you read- the fact that it’s in print DOESN’T guarantee its veracity! Read the entire story again, and each time a FACT is stated, ask yourself, who/what is the SOURCE of this FACT?

  2. Aurora

    I would follow up Tom’s comment, especially #5, with questioning the exact details of the case. Whenever the press covers libraries, they have a tendency to count all charges on a library card as “fines”. In their reporting, lost material charges become fines. So it is entirely possible that one child came in, checked out their limit of 12 DVDs and never brought a single one back. Now they’re being charged for the 12 non-returned DVDs and calling them fines.

  3. Aurora

    And I see that it is true that we are not talking fines. We are talking replacement fees, a horse of an entirely different color.

  4. Even if we’re talking replacement fees and not fines….a five year old is not legally responsible for anything. This is exactly the problem; if an adult doesn’t have to sign the library card application, making them legally responsible for lost or damaged items, the library is simply out of luck.

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