Busy blogging day, but Dewey and fines are related in terms of borrowers, but they are also big enough to warrant their own entries. So here’s to fines.
My public library service was very late in coming to fines. Our service has been in existence since 1970 with one branch, but we didn’t introduce fines until the early 1990′s (either then or the late 80′s). At that time, the average loan period on items was 6 weeks – our loans periods then were 4 weeks on print and audio books and 1 week on other AV. I was never a big fan when we were introducing them, but grew to love them when I could see how they worked. We don’t make tons of money from fines, but what is earned is sown back into buying more for our collections – patrons paying overdue fines get a some satisfaction from that at least.
Now in 2006, with 7 branches, our library manager is reconsidering having overdue fines – which is also at a time when the issue has been popping up in several of the blogs I regularly read. It is interesting reading both sides of the issue, particularly when I have been on either side at one time or another.
I think my first awareness of the issue in the blogosphere, was when several of the blogs I regularly read pointed me to an article in the Christian Science Monitor – “Is the lifting of library fines long overdue?” Interesting too was the poll which followed up a month later at http://www.csmonitor.com/poll/index.php?poll_id=421 – be sure to read the disclaimer.
It turns out this was another link in a chain of discussions which surfaces on a regular basis, but as I am relatively new to the blogosphere, was new to me in this format. There is no middle ground on the blog entries I have come across, they are either vehemently for or against library overdue fines. Check out some of the discussions on this and other library policies and rules, with ensuing comments at Information Wants to be Free, Walking Paper, Librarian.net and Librarian in Black, just to name a few. Whilst doing some more background for this entry, I did a search on Google Blog search on library fines and got over 22,000 hits. Its definitely a topic of discussion in blogs.
So where do I stand now on overdue fines? In all I have read, from both sides I can find no basis for disagreement. All the arguments are well reasoned and have solid bases. I have a history, as I said earlier, of vacillating between the two sides and its time for the pendulum to swing the other way. At a time where our society is changing, the library needs to change too and this is one of the areas I think we can make a positive change – a great PR move if you like.
If my library service goes down this path, as I believe it might, we will still have policies in place to get our stock returned, as we do now, but we won’t penalise late returns. Most of our fines are small – because items are only a little overdue. Many of these borrowers are regular late returners but only ever by a few days at most. To them we would give the freedom to be a little late. To those who bring back items late or never return them or don’t borrow due to the fear of fines, maybe they’ll come back earlier, bring them back altogether and return without fear of penalty. The small percentage that don’t return items, we will follow up with existing long overdue policies which includes using a collection agency and charging the borrower their fee.
In reference to the concerns about request for books being unsatisfied, think how much cheaper and easier it would be to satisfy those unfilled holds by being the odd extra copy of a title as required. In the meantime, we have a better situation at the front desk, less disputes, more happy people – both staff and borrowers.
So yes, I believe dropping library fines is a good idea. Its a big change in library policy and could be considered a risk, but I think its one worth taking.