Friday, January 01, 2010

An Overdue Post about Overdue Books

Some years ago, when I was living back in Harrow, Middlesex, I forgot about to take back a library book I had borrowed. How much could the library fine be? I was aghast to find that I was being faced with a penalty which was more than twice the cost of a brand new copy of the book! I argued with the librarian that this was plainly a ridiculous state of affairs, and that I was unemployed at the time. It all fell on deaf ears. I paid up but I never borrowed another book from the library. Seldom borrow a book from any library, in fact. And I think I am not alone in being put off in this way.

In fact the value (or not) of fines has become a hotly debated issue among librarians. (See here too.)

And you might remember the case in America where a woman went through the indignity of being arrested and handcuffed for failing to return an overdue book.

Now the New York Times reports on how some US libraries have found creative - and I think very sensible - ways to get around the problem of outstanding library fines including via food donations, donated fees (both for charity) and amnesty days.

Mind you, some of the best people have managed to run up library fines in their time ...


Stefania said...

In Italy libraries usually don't fine for overdue books, which is good. Only sometimes people keep their books for three months without realizing they're overdue.

gnute said...

Don't wanna sound uncool, but whatever happened to a sense of social responsibility?

I work at a library myself and believe me we very often give the patron the benefit of the doubt & are more than reasonable with special cases.

But some patrons who are late in returning books are perpetual offenders - some people would argue that we should get rid of fines since we know these people don't learn anyway. But not only are they depriving others of the books, they're treating public property as if it were theirs alone. What message would we be sending out if we got rid of fines?

"Yeah, can borrow for one month as is stipulated, but if you're feeling lazy, dun worry lah. Takde siapa kejar what. How can they expect you to remember the due date? So hard lor, on top of feeding your family. Anyway who else would want to read this book also lah, huh?"

If fines fatten a library's purse, I don't see any harm in that - It means more books can be bought and existing books can be better taken care of (re-bound, mended, more shelf space).

Satima Flavell said...

I don't know of any library here in Oz that charges fines these days. They learnt long ago that the threat of a fine is enough to stop people bringing books back at all - the borrower and the book just vanish into the ether!

miaomiao said...

i have to agree with gnute. if a form of punishment (in this case, a fine) is necessary to get borrowers to return the books, so be it. it would be naive of us to expect borrowers to return the books after six months overdue, or a year even. best bet is, they would just be buried with all other books. maybe due to fear of a big fine, or maybe just too embarrassed to face the librarian.

when i was in high school, a lot of times i went to the school library to borrow some titles i really wanted to get my hands on, only to find the books were still not available. sometimes, i did stumble upon these titles, but not in the library. instead, in the classrooms, other students' desk drawers, etc. all of them were months overdue.

to me, if a reader is willing to borrow a book, then he must be willing to return it on time. or, just check in with the library, get an extension.