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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

Watching your Library Account

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, November 24, 2013

I was scanning a newsfeed on the Internet this past week, and the headline “Ways to Improve Your Credit Rating” caught my eye.  Actually one of the subtitles is what really brought the topic to my attention: “Check your library account!”


I knew what the item was referring to, people forgetting that they have a delinquent library card account and allowing it to move to “credit collection” which eventually is a negative to your credit rating.


How many times in my forty-year library career have I fielded a phone call from someone removed from the area who is trying to buy a washing machine on credit only to find that they didn’t return library books eight years ago?


Sometimes the books arrive in the mail a few days later with a check for the overdue fines and costs.  Other times it is simply a payment for the cost of the books.


Public Libraries have long joined the credit collection program and overdue and delinquent accounts are sent for collection after they reach 60 days overdue.


The advantage to libraries is the ability of credit collection to locate people who have moved or relocated to a new area who did not clear their library accounts before departure.


There are three falsehoods to overdue library materials.  The first falsehood is that overdue books are “no big deal.”  Actually the loss of five library books can exceed $ 300 in costs to the library and the taxpayers who provided the funds for the books.


When our overdue notices are sent, and they reach a point of converting the notice to the cost of the items, many people are shocked and wonder why they owe the library $ 273.42?


Our library system uses e-mail as well as snail mail to notify customers of overdue materials, and provide book drops at all locations to return items 24/7.


The second falsehood of overdue library books is that the overdue fine continues on and on forever to some silly amount of thousands of dollars.  Most libraries limit overdue fines to some smaller amount that is less than the cost of the item; as libraries are more interested in the return of the materials than the money of the fine.


I know that the media loves to pick up on some book returned to the library after 50 years and what the cost of the fine would be.  To my memory, the oldest book returned to our library was one due in 1956 and returned by a landlord last year from the shelf in a closet.


We had to barcode the book and enter it into the computer system to make it usable for 2012.


The third falsehood of overdue library books is that the overdue fines operate the library system. 

The total overdues collected for a year would amount to less than one percent of the total library operating budget.  While all overdues collected are deposited into the operating budget, the budget is comprised primarily by the state Public Library Fund and a local Library Levy.


The good news is that our local Library System has one of the lowest rates of overdue items in the state, with only one-tenth of one percent of items checked out becoming an overdue problem.


The growth of online book services has aided people who wish to replace lost library books, as it provides them a location to find titles of these books.  Our system allows you to replace lost books rather than pay the replacement cost, IF the same title and format are available.


eBooks may be the demise of overdue fines for libraries since their product simple “goes away” and returns to the library collection on its own --- never late!


Over the years, I have fielded numerous questions and comments about people’s overdue books, from the amount of the fine, to the condition of the books, to the fact that the person can’t get back to the library.


The incident I best remember was over 30 years ago, when this man appeared at the library and said that he had 6 books that were overdue, and he couldn’t find them, and was unable to pay the costs for replacement.


The man, who was unknown to me, said that he had some replacement books that he would like to donate to replace the loss, so we went to the loading area to see them.  There sat a decrepit old cardboard box, falling apart, filled with the shabbiest old books that a librarian could imagine.  Most were brown paperbacks, with the covers falling off the text block.


I was shocked that someone would try to call these replacements for library books, but he spoke eloquently of each title as it fell apart in his hands, and I felt badly saying anything negative about his gift.  Finally I said, “This is a nice gift, but I just don’t think the library is able to use them.”  The man exclaimed, “Darn, your friend lost his bet!”  “He said you would yell and say this stuff is all junk!”


It turned out that a mutual friend had put the man up to the prank, and bet him that I would say it is all junk.