The Fuss on Fines and Fees
Our library has overdue fees, also known as “fines” It’s certainly not a favorite aspect of my job. I’ve seen people who recognize me from the library panic at the sight of me and skip aisles in the grocery store only to later approach me in the checkout line to confess: “I know I have overdue fees! I promise I’ll get that book back next week, I just couldn’t find it and then I had to travel with my son this week to chaperone baseball games and I just keep forgetting! I’m the worst!”
My dear dear patrons, take a deep breath- I’m sure you’re NOT the worst. And since I spend a good deal of time talking with patrons about their fines, here I am writing a blog post about it to tell you all the things I’d like all our patrons to know:
Fines aren’t personal.
I had no idea about this woman’s fines. Our fines are generated automatically by our computer system. I promise, there aren't any staff members who are laughing like deranged Muppets as they systematically add up late fees onto patron accounts. (I suppose unless this is how you think computers behave). A computer recognizes which items are overdue and either sends email notifications or prints notifications then mailed by a machine. Also in the mail mix are notifications to patrons who have items on hold which are ready to pick up, so there’s no real way to tell who has which notifications. Because the fines are automatically generated by our computer system, we have no idea which patrons have fines unless there is a specific inquiry into the account. There are statistical reports showing numbers and logistics, but unless a patron requests that staff look into their account, it is highly unlikely any of the staff knows about who has what kind of late fees on a patron’s account.
We want to work with you and your fines.
Let’s say you do have overdue fines. I’m sure we can work with you. The most important thing is to return the library materials. That is what we care most about and one of the reasons why fines exist. If you can return the materials, we can work with you on the late fees. Also, there are certain times of the year when the library offers “Food For Fines” when patrons are able to donate non-perishable food items in place of a dollar amount. The next one is in April during National Library Week.
We get fines too.
I hope you’re not offended if you’re one of the very few people who’ve never EVER had a fine, but statistically speaking, the majority of our patrons have had overdue fees at one point or another. The Library staff is no exception. I am no exception. I get fines. Also, after an unfortunate incident involving a poorly fastened juice lid, I’ve had to pay to replace library materials before. Fines happens. Accidents happen. No one is immune to mistakes. But please continue reading because...
Using the library is DEFINITELY worth the risk.
So, yeah we have fines. Sometimes, we spill juice or coffee or have a pet who decides to tear into the latest John Grisham novel. However terrible these circumstances may seem at the time, try not to be discouraged.
I certainly want people to be respectful of our library items, but I also wish that the worry over fines wasn’t such a deterrent to library use. For example, I feel like there are SO many parents out there who think “I can’t risk my child ruining a book, so I just won’t borrow.” or “I have fines so I just won’t bother going to the library anymore because I’m a bad patron.” I understand. I’m not wealthy, so I certainly understand the worry over money. But on that same financial note, I’ve borrowed 3,998 items since 2002 which estimates to about $85,000 worth of materials and only had $148.00 in late fees over the past sixteen years. That's not even counting the eBooks and audiobooks I’ve borrowed, which accrue no fines whatsoever! That sounds like a pretty great investment to me definitely worth the risk.
And for all the fine weenies out there- digital items may be the way to go. Although your eBook might disappear from your tablet before you’re finished reading it, rest easy knowing it was returned on time.
Noelle Parker is the Osage Branch Manager for Missouri River Regional Library and currently owes $2.00 in overdue fees.