Saturday, January 07, 2006

Fines Redux

Wading into the fray to support George's opinion...I am not sure how best to provide incentive to borrowers to return material but I am 100% in agreement with George that fines are a lousy way to do it. Tell me all the costs to collect material from delinquent users...less or more than replacement? Most librarians will not be able to answer this.

What do we think we are? The highway patrol? Drivers all know what the rules of the road are, and what the speed limits are. Yet, most of us (even librarians) break some of these rules and limits every single day. When we get caught, do we love our captors? No, I doubt it. Although we know that police officers are upholding laws designed for the common good, we don't feel bathed in the light of this common good when we are pulled over for doing 60 in a 40 zone, do we? We are contrite, and we yet feel anxiety often on spotting police cars. I think anxiety is a very bad state to associate with library use.

Police departments rely heavily on the revenue generated by such fines, but for the love of St. Jerome, do libraries really want to put themselves in the same civic category as police departments? My dad, one of my sisters, and one of my cousins were/are police officers so I have a great deal of respect for this work but I know that in their world there's good guys and bad guys. Nothing in between.

This might be flip, but I do not put never returning a book by Barbara Taylor Bradford into the same category of offense as speeding in a school zone.

I agree with George. Fines have to go. Libraries need to find another way to replace that income even if it means going to the Board and detailing what cannot be done without these funds. The cost of fines to the library's image far outweighs the income generated.

Come on, be truthful...this is really a moral issue, isn't it? People should return material......


Mickey Coalwell said...

Alane writes, "do libraries really want to put themselves in the same civic category as police departments?"

No. But public libraries are in SOME kind of civic category, and the civic good implies good library citizenship.

Citizenship is about responsibilities as well as rights, and while I agree that fines can be unpleasant, they do remind library citizens of those responsibilities.

Is there a humane way to administer fines? I think there is. Should fines be thrown out entirely? I don't think so.

Libraries have a tacit contract with users. We use public funds to provide equitable access to reliable, high-quality goods and services.

Users have the obligation to share library resources with others in the community, and to exercise good judgment in the use of library resources.

I think fines have a part in supporting that relationship.

Absent fines, is there another mechanism that you would suggest to support the appropriate civic contract between libraries and their users?

Anonymous said...

At the risk of sounding Machiavellian, drop the fines and restrict access to "extra" services.

What are extra services?
ILL, subscription databases, book borrowing, etc.

Pretty much the only services that should be made available to peple that have exceeded their privileges are the library catalog, librarian chat services (to discover why they are blocked from certain services), phone call sto the circulation desk, and walk-in browsing.

Kill the fines, and the jail time threats; disassociate the librarians from the Library Police image.

Library Rules:
1. If you are a patron in good standing, please feel free to use all our resources.

2. If you are not in good standing, here is what you need to do to return to a state of grace. Once you do this, see Rule 1.