The New York Times had a heartwarming human interest story about libraries last week on ways libraries are avoiding charging fines so as not to penalize people who charge out library books and then irresponsibly return them late or not at all.
Some especially touchy-feely libraries are just having amnesty days or weeks where they let people bring books back and continue using the library without paying fines. They want to increase access to information, which is supposedly one of the goals of a library, but if another is to have actual books available, I’m not sure that’s the best way to go.
Some are allowing people to donate food instead. The librarians are then giving the food to local shelters instead of eating it themselves, unless people donate chocolate or brownies, in which case they go straight to the break room.
There must be other ways to deal with criminally negligent patrons other than just forgiving them or forcing them to be charitable in order to check out recent CDs to rip for their iPods.
Libraries could just develop the Netflix model. I know some libraries are delivering books to people, but I’m not talking about that. The library would just say to everyone, "Keep the books as long as you like!" That’s what a library with a perennial amnesty policy is essentially saying anyway. Netflix limits how many DVDs you can have at a time, though.
(I mean, unless you pay for multiple accounts. Personally, I have seven subscriptions so I can have a month’s worth of DVDs all out at the same time. Unfortunately, I think I’ve had the same DVDs since June, but I’ll have a chance to watch them after I retire.)
Libraries would have to do something like that. Maybe patrons can check out four adult books and ten children’s books. Then they can just keep them forever, maybe even willing them to their children’s library account so they can keep them forever. The library would be completely empty, but think of all that information people would have!
Or libraries could have the patrons do something instead of just cleaning out their cupboards and forcing occupants of the local shelters to dine on cranberry sauce and condensed milk for a month. They could have patrons volunteer, for example. Make ’em go shelve those books it took them ten months to return. Or force them to check out books to other patrons, and make sure the other patrons’ hands are so full of books they have to carry their library cards in their mouths and grunt for the clerk to grab it from their drooling lips (as I saw happen in a public library last year.)
Or else they could combine such services with Library Spa 2.0. From the Library Spa 2.0 press release:
"When you come into a "Library Spa 2.0" library, you are automatically treated like a minor deity. Librarians and library staff always talk in private about how much they worship the publics they serve, but now we’re going to show it!
"When you enter, you will immediately be escorted to you own private patron pod, where you will be given a full-body massage by our Massage Librarian–Big Leela. While you’re getting your shoulders mauled and your tushie pounded by Big Leela, another professional librarian will kindly fetch any library materials you may need. Merely tell the Fetching Librarian your desiderata and she will fetch it, whether it’s the latest best-seller by Patricia Cornball or "that big green book I was looking at last time."
"If you want to surf the Internet for porn or business news or whatever it is you like, the Laptop Librarian will bring the ALFL laptop and hold it under your face while you are getting your massage."In a couple of weeks we’ll be adding facials, manicures, and high colonics. We expect our user statistics to soar!
"Our most frequent reference question is always ‘Where’s the restroom?’ Well, no more hunting for the restroom for ALFL ‘customers.’ In case ‘nature calls’ while you’re getting your massage and you don’t feel like moving, we provide plenty of bedpans, and we don’t mind emptying them.
Not every library can afford that level of service, and there’s only one Big Leela, but now librarians could have wayward patrons go fetch books and empty bedpans.
It’s likely that these offerings won’t be as popular as flat out amnesties or donating decades-old cans of creamed corn, but it’s still working with irresponsible patrons to help them help keep their access to information. In addition, making those patrons work for something might teach them responsibility, which apparently they never learned as children, and that would be good for them in all sorts of ways. Not only might they start returning library materials on time once they see how annoying it is to work in a library, but they can also learn to corral their screaming children and wash the peanut butter and jelly off their hands before they handle that library DVD.
Libraries have barely begun to explore creative ways to deal with these scofflaws.