LSJ Editors' Blog: A fines debate

24 October 2006

A fines debate

A recent post on Mark Hurst's This is Broken blog has touched off an interesting debate. Mark complains that he was not notified by the Denver Public Library until 10 days after his books were overdue: "Why is the notice sent so long after the fact? Clearly the focus of the system is to extract fines and not the return of their material."

Clearly there is no consensus in the library world about how this touchy subject is handled. Or rather, the issue is often dismissed by librarians as unimportant. Unfortunately it is exactly the sort of small thing that causes big aggravation to the public and, in my opinion, someone from the for-profit world like Mark is absolutely right to scoff at such disregard for customer service.

GreatWesternDragon says:
We assume that you're responsible enough to bring the items back without needing to receive a mailed overdue notice. You're given a receipt when you get your books or the books are stamped. Do you need a past due notice to pay your light bill? Then you shouldn't need a past due notice to bring your items back.

The point is, if you received an overdue notice, the chances are that YOU are the one who's screwed up. You shouldn't need the library to send you a notice that your books are late. You should be responsible enough to bring them back on time.

CJ says:

I've been running public libraries for over 20 years. Trust me, income from fines is barely a drop in the bucket when it comes to operating revenue. My budget this year is 5 million dollars. About 80,000 of that is fines, and 25,000 copy machines. Most of it comes from various taxes.

And did you not receive a date due slip when you checked out your books? Do you not have an obligation to return those books without the library having to remind you?

PLUS, your local library surely has a web accessible catalog. You can log in there with your library card number very easily at any time to see a list of your current checkouts and their due dates, your current hold list and the status of each item, and how much you owe on your library account and why.

Be responsible for yourself, why don't you?

Frankly, I find it hard to believe someone with an attitude towards their (taxpaying) patrons has been allowed to run public libraires for so long!

GreatWesternDragon chimes back in with:
There were overdue fines many years before e-mail and people managed to stumble along then. My suggestion is, if you're having that much trouble keeping track of all of those materials, then you shouldn't check out that many materials....Those items don't belong to you, they belong to the library and everything is 100% free as long as you abide by the rules. There's no more moral high ground here requesting the timely return of materials.
So...just because we have new technologies to make your life easier doesnt mean we are under obligation to use them.

And, finally, Memnon (an apparent non-librarian, I should note) takes things up a notch with:
"Gee, let me use the library, but don't expect me to be resposible at all for using it correctly... and how DARE you charge me a tiny fee if I don't pay attention and get what I took out back in time"...Grow the hell up!!!
Now contrast this with some comments from patrons who really do appreciate a timely notice.

Hatchibombotar says:
I greatly value the one-day-before email notices that the Colorado Springs public library sends...I often have dozens of books and videos checked out from my public library for myself and my son. Given that the library's computers are much more capable of keeping track of what I have out and when it is due, why shouldn't they send me an email a day or two in advance? Do you want the stuff back on time, or do you want to feel morally superior to your patrons?
Lisa says:
I receive email notices from the Boulder Public Library 3 days before the book is due. I very much appreciate the notices.
And Migranium says:

My local public library system sends an email notice a few days before an item is due. I'll bet this automated customer-centric feature costs them very little. I certainly appreciate it!
I'm with the latter three on this one, obviously. It's nice to receive emailed notices on or before the day your books are due. It's good customer service. It's good PR.

Regular readers will know that I've had a similar complaint in the past about my local public, but I'm happy to say the BECPL has seen the light--they have recently started sending out notices BEFORE books are due, not three weeks after. Thanks to whatever enlightened soul got that policy changed!

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