Wednesday, May 14, 2008

No one told me it was "Pay Your Massive Fines Day"

Yesterday was very odd.

On three separate occasions, each within half an hour of the previous one, unrelated patrons arrived, turned in books and alerted us that their books were extremely overdue and that they wished to pay fines for them. Now, during most weeks, extremely overdue books are only returned on Fridays, our weekly and fairly well-publicized amnesty day. But this was a Tuesday.

One lady's books were 93 days overdue and her fines amounted to nearly $30. She was pleasantly surprised when I alerted her to the fact that we have a $4 fine ceiling, so her total only came to $4. She gave me a five and told me she didn't want change. The next lady had books that were 88 days overdue. She too hit the fine ceiling. All in all, three patrons hit the ceiling.

Another patron left two Ralph Ellison books in our after hours bookreturn that were so wildly overdue that we'd already deleted them from the system. In fact, I can remember searching the shelves for those same books on at least three separate occasions before sending out the overdues on them, well over two years ago, and being very resentful about having to do it because clearly this patron was never going to return them. That patron's fines were completely absolved, as we don't charge fines on anything in our after hours box (being as how it's only unlocked after hours).

Another patron (perhaps the one from above) arrived in person to pay the fines on some massively overdue books he'd turned in in the book drop. I had to explain that those fines had been eaten and the reasons behind it. I didn't even have any idea what his fines would have been, nor which books he'd turned in, cause they didn't show on his record.

"Do you guys collect any fines at all?" he asked.

"Actually, yeah," I had to say.

I wonder if it's spring cleaning that's unearthing these lost tomes? If this was the case, I did note that one lady's books certainly hadn't fallen into the spring-cleaning themselves, for they were quite filthy, though otherwise undamaged.


Lisa said...

A month ago, a paperback copy of Little Women reappeared at my lib. It had been gone so long, it didn't have a barcode on it: pbks used to be uncataloged. The title remains on local school summer reading lists, so I barcoded and cataloged it.

LibraryDiva said...

Wow, I cannot believe that your system has an amnesty day! Not only does mine not have such a day, but we do not have a fine "ceiling." However, we would just watch our collection disappear if we had such measures in place. Reading your stories help put my interaction with the public into perspective -- keep up the good work!

arkham said...

Wow. Your library is really lenient on fines. Where I worked we were decent about fines, but if you owed $30, you owed $30. You would never owe more than the replacement cost of an item, though.

And as for the after-hours, we would backdate all items returned in the drop overnight to the previous day (or to Saturday if it was Monday morning, as we were closed on Sundays). Still charged fines if they were overdue, but didn't charge them for an extra day if they were in the drop.

Seems like it would be easy for patrons to abuse your leniency...and since you have an amnesty day, I'm sure they do. Closest we had was a food-for-fines program, where one item of food donated to a food pantry (collected at the circ desk) equaled one dollar in fines - we did it during National Library Week.

Hazel said...

Where we work not only do we let them run up huge fines, we stop them graduating if they owe the library money!

PCdoc said...

I've been in the liberry biz for over 20 years (and have the gray hair to prove it). Just after I started,a woman returned 5 books that "she knew her kids had returned and it was our fault we couldn't find them". She and her husband were moving and as they cleaned out the attic, they found the books that the kids had "returned". They were due in 1953. Needless to say, no fines were charged

Sarah said...

I agree with the other commenters--your system is wickedly lenient! We are almost the opposite--we don't make people pay if their fines are ten dollars or under. We don't charge more fines then the cost of the item, but it can really add up. 30$ is nothing! I've had people come in and pay or discuss fines in the hundreds of dollars. I always found it most humorous that people would come in embarrassed and apologetic about their "enormous" fines, which turn out to be 5$ or so. And then people would ask about their fines and not appear at all shocked to find they owe 200$. It is even more shocking to have them whip out their checkbook and pay it.

An employee of a small town "liberry" chronicles his quest to remain sane while dealing with patrons who could star in a short-lived David Lynch television series.