Annoyed Librarian
Search LibraryJournal.com ....
Subscribe to LJ
Inside Annoyed Librarian

Keep It As Long As You Want

Today I want to talk about something controversial. Dr. Seuss and Donald Trump are flashes in the librarian pan; unhinged students exercising their right to free speech by trying to shout down other people’s speech is a passing fad.

Instead, let’s talk about library fines and how much I don’t like them.

Before we get into it, I should note that as a librarian, I haven’t paid a lot of library fines. It’s pretty easy to return books on time when you have to go into the place you got them from every day.

Thus, I have no personal axe to grind. I don’t take on this crusade for myself. I do it for the people, just like I do everything else.

But I still don’t like them. I don’t like them when they’re levied on children whose parents are irresponsible, leaving the children unable to check out library books to read.

I don’t like them when they’re levied on poor, but admittedly irresponsible, people who might benefit from reading books but can’t because they owe money for fines that they can’t pay. And I don’t like it when people go to jail for library fines they can’t pay.

Obviously, I understand the argument that people should be responsible for turning in their books on time. I agree. They should. We should all be more responsible.

However, the mission of the library is to spread knowledge, reading, and literacy, not teach responsibility.

Look around you at your library. Look at yourself. Do you really think you or your colleagues are such paragons of morality that you should be enforcing it on others? If you think so, think again. We’re all flawed.

Also, I understand the argument some misguided librarians make that fines help libraries raise money. Maybe they do, but it’s not a stream of revenue that libraries should count on.

Those people who pay fines have already paid taxes, so the library already has their money. Work smarter with it.

However, it turns out there’s a simple solution that might be really common and I just wasn’t aware of it.

The Lafayette (LA) Public Library is in the vanguard here. They announced a new policy of automatic renewals for almost everything.

The library announced today it has a new service — RENEW DAT — which automatically renews your non-digital library items. That will mean no more late fees because non-digital items will automatically renew before they are overdue, letting you return them at your convenience.

The digital items are probably off limits because libraries pay ebook vendors gobs of money for severely restricted use of digital products they can’t control. Items on hold also don’t renew.

The people get notified by mail of the renewals, so essentially they’re getting a late notice, but it comes before they’ve accrued any fines.

The one catch is that “late fees will still apply when an item reaches its renewal limit,” but the article doesn’t say what the limit is.

Still, considering the short checkout times for a lot of library material, 2-3 automatic renewals makes it easier for people.

I’m torn on whether it would be better to allow unlimited renewals of items that could be renewed.

You could argue that it would just encourage laziness and irresponsibility in patrons who would never bring things back. But, again, it’s not our job to promote morality outside of library-related areas like intellectual freedom.

The best argument against unlimited renewals is probably that it would make the shelves of many libraries, especially smaller ones, into barren wastelands after a while, making it more difficult for people to browse and find books.

In a big university library with a couple of million books, that sort of thing doesn’t matter, but if your library has only 50,000 books, that could be a serious problem.

So while unlimited renewals might be the ideal to get rid of most fines, it makes sense to limit them.

If this practice is widespread, I wish I’d known about it sooner. And if it’s not, kudos to the Lafayette Public Library for being in the vanguard.

If nobody wants to check out the book, let people keep it as long as they want. Anything else is just enforcement of an arbitrary rule that helps nobody.

Share

Comments

  1. I really dislike the classist attitude that excuses “poor, but admittedly irresponsible, people”. Why are they allowed to deprive others of the materials they need? Auto-renewals are a good in-between no fines and accountability. My library has been doing them for years now. As long as a book doesn’t have a request I can keep it for 9 weeks (3 weeks with 2 auto-renewals of 3 weeks each). But, I cannot hold that book through the summer when high school students need it for summer reading. There is a consequence. I haven’t seen barren shelves, other than from poor budget support.

    • There are a lot of not-poor, but admittedly irresponsible people too (just check the daily news) but no one seems to bring them up. I don’t know any librarian who sees fines as a source of revenue (though other govt depts. might). And what if that book has a hold list on it? Would it still be renewed automatically? What if some other poor but not necessarily irresponsible person is waiting for that item? At some point you have to say, enough.

    • @Joneser, I think you missed the part where I wrote, ‘As long as a book doesn’t have a request…. That answers the question.

  2. “If nobody wants to check out the book, let people keep it as long as they want. Anything else is just enforcement of an arbitrary rule that helps nobody.”

    How do we know if no one wants the book if it isn’t on the shelf? Isn’t the idea of collocation to encourage serendipitous finding? I don’t think I’ve ever gone a month without checking out a book I didn’t even know existed and certainly was not seeking to find. That only happened because the book was on the shelf.

    I oppose fines too, and hope to soon eliminate them in our library. But we still want the books to come back. There are ways to ensure that happens. Eight weeks seems reasonable. We are a lending library, not a giving library.

    • Browsing is a huge driver of circulation in public libraries – in fact, many people fill their arms up at the New Books shelves and don’t go any further. Also, what if it is a difficulty for some people to have to put a title on hold and then come back? It’s not an “arbitrary rule that helps nobody”; it’s a way of at least optimizing the insufficient resources we do have.

      Has AL ever worked in a public library? I’m not thinking so.

    • I’ve had a lot of people tell me no on putting a book on hold. They said they would wait for it to come back. But by the time it comes back, they probably will have forgotten about it!

  3. I actually have no qualms in paying library fines. If I mess up and forget to return, in spite of the check out slip and the e-mail reminder, then it’s no one’s fault but mine. You know, “personal responsibility”. A dated concept in which no one on this page apparently believes in.

    Learn to take responsibility for your own mistakes instead of whining about hither, yither and yon.

  4. Academic here. We got rid of fines many years ago and never looked back. When you can place a registration hold and freeze transcripts the books do come back. I wish the PLs had it that easy. Not that there aren’t some wonderful ideas out there.

Comment Policy:
  1. Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  2. Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  3. Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  4. Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media, per our Terms of Use.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through (though some comments with links to multiple URLs are held for spam-check moderation by the system). If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.

We accept clean XHTML in comments, but don't overdo it and please limit the number of links submitted in your comment. For more info, see the full Terms of Use.

Speak Your Mind

*

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.

Optimization WordPress Plugins & Solutions by W3 EDGE