Libraries That Make Bad Decisions, Part Bazillionty One.

In the tradition of the library that charged a dead woman’s family for her overdue fees, and the library that had a woman arrested for having for overdue books, there’s this story:

An Independence woman was arrested on theft charges Thursday for failing to return a library book.

Shelly J. Koontz, 39, was arrested just after 8 p.m. at her residence after a warrant had been issued. She was originally charged with fifth-degree theft for keeping “The Freedom Writers Diary,” which she checked out from the Jesup Public Library in April 2008.

Jesup Police Chief Rick Deitrick said the book was valued at $13.95.

“Theft is theft, no matter what it is,” Deitrick said.

Sigh.

So, we’re worried about whether our funding authorities will consider us worthy of keeping around, and worried whether our constituents will continue to visit us and avail themselves of our services…..and then we’re going to throw the book at someone for $14.00?  Is it just me, or is that incredibly stupid?  Penny-wise and pound-foolish?  Really, really bad P.R.?

And why would this woman – or anyone else in this area – continue to visit the library when they can be arrested for a library book?  Isn’t there a way to solve this short of criminal charges?  Because otherwise, I’m heading to the local bookstore and not the library.

Bad, bad, bad.

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3 Comments

Filed under Customer Service, Libraries and Librarianship

3 responses to “Libraries That Make Bad Decisions, Part Bazillionty One.

  1. Lisa

    Hmmm. Just $14, huh? What about the time required to review and order the book in the first place, then process it. Also factor in the time and cost to reorder and reprocess the replacement book. What about the people who came into the library to get the book, but couldn’t because someone wouldn’t return it to the library? What if I were to walk into the county health clinic and steal, say, a bottle of aspirin worth $14? That’s theft. Why isn’t not returning library books just as much theft as that? You asked if there weren’t a way to solve this short of criminal charges; I’m sure she received notices. Usually libraries send out two or three notices before referring to the city attorney – who also then sends out his own notice/warning. I’d say that was the way to solve it short of criminal charges – if the recipient chooses to ignore those notices, it’s on her/his head. And I certainly don’t think it’s bad PR. I think it shows libraries are willing to protect their product and stand up for the taxpayer. I sure wouldn’t want to put my money into an institution that frittered away my money.

  2. You have some good arguments, Lisa, and I agree that theft is theft. However, I still maintain that having someone arrested for a theft of this size is overkill.

    And to your point of the hours involved, look at the cost of recovering this $14.00. How many hours were spent by the library staff, the city attorney, and the law enforcement folks? I’m guessing it would total more than $14.00 worth.

    I would recommend that a library have a threshold above which they’ll press criminal charges – say, $250. (Just an arbitrary number; obviously, this would need to be a discussion between the library and its board.) Under that, I would restrict library usage until the bill had been paid – including internet access. (That usually did the trick at my public library.)

    While taxpayers appreciate that we’re fiscally responsible, dealing this harshly with someone over a bill this small just seems petty.

  3. Lisa makes some good points but I agree with Mary Beth. We (I’m a librarian too) know that this is theft but there is no way to make arresting a patron appear justified to the average citizen. It just makes the library look petty.

    So, what to do? Mary Beth’s idea of a threshold makes sense, as does the blocking of library services. Especially Internet use. If the library funding authority allows, perhaps it could also be tied to other city/county/whatever services? This would require an integrated database that most cities/counties would not have acess to and is probably not feasible. I just know that, many years ago when I worked in academia, students who couldn’t care less about loosing library priveleges cared a great deal when they couldn’t get their grades or degrees because of library delequencies. We got a lot of books back that way.

    I wonder if peer pressure could be brought to bear? As a small town librarian, I would try to cultivate a partnership with the local paper. An article once a year or so on how much money the city/county has lost replacing “forgotten” library materials couldn’t hurt. Especially in these tough times.

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