One of my volunteers also works as a clerk at the local public library. What she has to tell me about people running up late fees is disheartening. People come in, take out stacks of DVDs (more often than books) and then keep them too long, and are shocked that there’s a late fee — shocked, I tell you! — despite the signs posted every five inches throughout the library. Children lose books, on their card or their parent’s, and said parent is offended at the idea that they have to pay to replace it. And my favorite: the library around here has a policy that if you’ve got more than $5 in late fees on your account, you can’t take out more books. Personally, I think that’s generous. But do you know what most people do? They’ll owe, say, $6.25 total. So when they try to take out a book and can’t, then they’ll pay $1.26. That’s right — just enough to get them under the cutoff. But not the whole fee. And lest you start feeling bad and thinking these people can’t afford more (ignoring that all they had to do was bring their items back on time to avoid these fees in the first place), remember that I live in ritzy affluent suburban town. The library parking lot is full of Mercedes, Ford Explorers and Jaguars. My volunteer has had a woman in a fur coat pull that pay-just-enough routine on her. On all of you, really, you know — public libraries are taxpayer-funded. When someone refuses to pay their fines like that, it makes more work for the library, which costs more, and it means that the library is without materials for longer. Just a thought.
Last May, the San Francisco Public Library released a great series of short videos called “Celebrity Excuses” to promote their Fine Amnesty Period. Many public libraries have a “fine amnesty” event, from time to time. Why? Because bad as late materials are, some go missing for years and it’s more expensive to replace books than it is to forgive fines. Replacing a book isn’t just the cost of the book, it’s the time, the staff hours, etc., processing it, too. And also, it’s good community relations. SF’s celebrities include writer Beth Lisick, comedian Marga Gomez, and my personal favorite, pilot “Sully” Sullenberger, who says, “You’ve misplaced your library book. Perhaps you’ve just forgotten to return it until it’s late and you owe fines. Or maybe you’re just trying to think of a really, really good excuse, like, ‘It got lost in the Hudson River.’ ”
So if you’ve got late library books — and I’m assuming anyone reading this blog would never do such a thing — and unless you share Captain Sullenberger’s excuse and for the same reason (and FYI: he contacted the library about the book he had with him on the plane, but I understand they were waived in light of the fact that he’d been, you know, saving lives when it happened), return them and pay your fines as soon as you can.