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July 31, 2006



Oh get over yourself. I'm no baby-boomer (under 35, in fact) but even I know fines are necessary. Why should the library (especially a public library) have to pay the high cost of repeatedly replacing items (or chase after people for replacement costs) because some lazy, irresponsible git can't bring things back on time.

My public library uses a collection agency to get items and large fines and as a tax payer, I say more power to them. If you can't be responsible - DON'T USE THE LIBRARY!


Thank for the feedback!

"lazy, irresponsible git" I'll have to use that for my next annual review.


Interesting idea, to cut users off from services like databases. I like it. It would probably work better around here than late fees do. I agree that they don't work and don't make sense in a netflix world. The amount of time and work that goes into collecting fines is way more effort than the deterrent warrants. Thanks for sharing!

steven bell

We continue to assess fines here. Most library users expect it, and don't have a problem with them - except if we appear to have erred in some way - and we always give students the benefit of the doubt.

I would have a problem with shutting students off from borrowing materials to force them to return books. That defeats the purpose of allowing students to access our content so they can conduct research. I can well imagine a student reporting to a faculty member that the reason he or she couldn't finish the required paper is because the library wouldn't allow them to borrow a needed book or access a database. I wonder what that would do for our reputation among the faculty.

The one advantage of library fines that you ignore in your post is that they are a valued revenue stream for many libraries. We use all our fines to repair damaged books, replace lost and missing ones (when it makes sense), and otherwise maintain our collection. So I don't think of them as fines or late fees, but as collection maintenance surcharges.

As I've said in previous writings, what might make sense for a business entity does not necessarily make sense for a library.


Thanks Steven for the well argued response. Glad to see you don’t have the ‘but we’ve always done it like that” attitude that is unfortunately so prevalent in libraries.

Within the Georgia System, libraries do not receive money for overdues, it goes directly into the University General Fund (ie: football program)

I was just tossing around ideas with the blocking access. I’ll rethink my argument and post a more thoughtful stance on the issue in the future.


Brian, I've only worked at public libraries (and I'm now in Canada) - so my thoughts may not apply to an academic setting. But I tend to agree with Steven that users expect fines and only get annoyed if there is the perception of an error. The places that I worked also saw fines as revenue streams... and this was (and is) quite important for many public libraries.

I took the opportunity to ask a few of the patrons I currently deal with about the idea of getting rid of fines. Surprisingly, none of them thought it was a good idea! Two people commented that it was a necessary incentive to ensure that people bring things back on time (one compared it to speeding tickets to encourage people to drive properly). Three others said that if people could keep things out "forever" then the library would be forced to by more copies of things and that would reduce the breadth of the collection. Finally, several people commented that they definitely wanted people to bring things back on time when they had a hold placed on it (which is a good point). Not scientific by any means - but interesting comments.


Thanks Lynn! I'll ask a few random students about fines and get back with you on that.

Oh and I would guess that most people speed a little. Not sure about up there in Canada, but the places I've lived (Orlando, Wash DC, and Atlanta) not many people follow the posted limit. If you hit someone, then you should be liable for damages, but you should not be fined for driving 65 in a 55. Although my brother is a cop and he’d probably side with you.

The bigger issue I have is people who fake recalls! That’s all I’m going to say about.

sylvie szafranski

No, No, you're SO right! Overdue fines are all wrong!
Replacement bills for lost/never returned items OK, overdue fines, NO.
The biggest issue is that (unlike the 27$ for 11 days example you give) most public libraries not only charge fine "because they've always done it that way", but still charge what they were charging when they started which is 5-10-15 cents/day. Now they refuse to face the fact that if costs them more to collect fines than the fines revenue brings in.

nice to meet you.

Mary Beth Sancomb-Moran

Well, I AM a baby boomer, and I agree with you completely. My former library didn't assess fines. We charged the patron for the price of the book after it was gone three months - which usually brought it back in a hurry.

We were concerned that kids weren't using the library because of a fine. Or because their parents were concerned about fines. In either case, the very people who most NEED the library were often not using it because of the fine system.

Now granted, this was a small library and the annual fines totaled under $500. The problem with fines, especially for large public libraries, is that they now constitute a six-figure income stream which boards are loath to do without. They've created the monster, and now can't kill it.


I totally agree with you, Brian! I work in a public library that doesn't charge overdue fines. We just charge for lost/damaged materials. They are blocked from further checkouts if they have too many items overdue, and they are blocked from checking out AND using the Internet once they cross the $$ limit threshold.

It's one less thing to cause an adversarial relationship with your patrons. Our Board has a great deal of trust in its borrowers. Our fine-free system is an expression of that faith.


Thanks everyone for all the comments! I knew in my heart that my vibe was right.

I've got to keep strumming the punk chords and not worry about appealing to mainstream librarianship.

sylvie szafranski

I love it.

and then I love even more how someone can blow you off so quickly and in the same breath profess with such certainty that "fines are necessary". Nothing like a 30 something making a me feel young at 41. ;)

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