Our Public Library Has A New Policy

The library staff put these fliers in the last three books I’ve checked out like it’s a good thing. No more fines! Now there is no reward for responsibility, and carelessness is reinforced.

It has been no small laughing matter that I incurred fines when I was a child. Perhaps you’ve read my lament about losing Toby Tyler and the Circus, the months long search for it, and the fine my mother ended up paying. I was so ashamed that I didn’t need any punishment. When it finally turned up, years later, between the wall and my bed, I didn’t even feel joyful. I’m still rather upset about that book.

When my son was in high school he had a fine for something like $500.00 due to all the CDs he’d left in his car for months and months. I’m sure some were probably lost, too. Remembering my experience with Toby, I thought he should ask the library if we could replace them. “No,” they said. They also would not agree to a deal in which we paid half. So, the Christmas money from his grandparents went to the library that year.

Both of our experiences were uncomfortable. I clearly remember each one, although they were thirty years apart. But, they taught us something! We learned that we needed to care for what was not our own. We learned the value of time and honoring a due date. We learned that there were consequences for irresponsibility.

Now the library is saying, in essence, “Don’t worry if you accrue fines! Now you can return your books whenever you please.” Here is how the back of the flyer explains their new policy:

Naperville Public Library is no longer charging fines for overdue items. Those who do not return materials on time will have their accounts locked after seven days rather than accruing fines. Once an item is returned, the account will be unlocked.

This new policy will allow for:

* Increased flexibility for our customers.

* Equitable access to resources.

* Better customer service.

* A continued commitment to responsibly utilizing Library resources.

Every day I wake up wondering what new policy will replace the old. And, when I discover what it is, I rarely find a plan that promotes morality, or responsibility, or personal accountability. It seems that things are just made “easier” for everyone, and that cannot be a good thing. My mother has a fabulous saying. “Education is expensive,” she says, and it is! We learn when things are hard, as this great quote reiterates:

“Nothing worth having comes easy.”

-Theodore Roosevelt

Silly library, what are you teaching?

23 thoughts on “Our Public Library Has A New Policy”

  1. Our library went this way, but I think they explained it as removing barriers to access. Before, I think long overdue accounts or those that owed more than a certain amount could get sent to collections. Or people would run up fines and never come back. I’m okay with it, the fines made no difference to me, but it might make a difference to others, to not have to worry about it, and to have their kids maintain access to the library in spite or items being late. I don’t think ours even suspends, but I could be wrong.

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    1. Our library explains it as “removing barriers to access”, too. As if not being responsible about what you’ve checked out creates a barrier to access. Oh! Maybe they mean a barrier for the people who are waiting for the book which is in a black hole somewhere, even though they’ve paid the taxes for access to the library’s books! (I’m not taking this out on you, personally, I’m just so stewed about the whole thing.)

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  2. I am a chronic late returner because we have to renew books every three weeks and three weeks just flies by. I’m sure it used to be six. They send an email reminder several days too early so I tell myself, “Oh, I’ve still got plenty of time”, then I forget. Now I set an alarm on my phone on the due date, but it’s still no guarantee I can get there. So, for me, it is highly annoying when they block my account because then I can’t renew online and I have to go in person, whether I have time or not. Unfortunately, if you have several books overdue, they block you almost immediately. The worst thing is, we already have to pay a hefty membership fee every year (€60, I believe), so I’m always angry at myself when I have to pay extra. Then annoyed at the library because they rarely have any of the books I want to read in English, so I have to pay yet more to borrow on interlibrary loan. And the likelihood of them having books published in the last year, even at national (Dutch) level is minimal. It’s so frustrating!

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    1. I can see how frustrating that must be, especially as you must pay a yearly fee for few books available in English. I am sure that our very high taxes would come to some yearly fee such as yours; one expects some service for what they pay, does one not? I certainly expect to find the books I wish, and more often than not am wild because our library has so many books of the “best selling” variety, and so little of “quality” fiction or books in translation. I have lamented long and loud about not finding the books longlisted on the International Booker Prize every year…and once, I even found a first edition of Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore for $2.00 on the Used Book Shelf for Sale. It was lucky for me, but I can’t understand how they didn’t value that edition!

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      1. Precisely! I understand they can’t afford to buy everything from the longlist, but when they don’t even have the prize winner in English, I wonder what it is they spend their money on.

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  3. My library introduced this too. It’s designed to remove barriers to entry and to remove the stigma of not being able to pay fines. I think they’re so keen to ensure impoverished people keep using the library, they don’t want to give anyone an excuse not to keep reading.

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    1. I think you state the library’s position perfectly. “Remove the stigma of fines”…which could all be avoided if the books aren’t returned late. Follow the rules, don’t pay a fine. I don’t see what’s so hard about that. Didn’t the people agree to the rules when they signed up for a card? (We have to practically show our birth certificates when we obtain a card at our library. It’s a Very Big Deal: a license, two forms of mail with your address, a signature like you’re buying a house. But, there is no doubt about what is required when the patron checks out a book.)

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      1. Good point. To be honest, I wonder how many people bring back books late anyway… maybe the fines were irrelevant to begin with. I get countless reminders my books need to come back by a certain date but then I’m privileged enough to have a mobile phone and laptop to receive these communications and a permanent address to receive physical mail. Not all library users can say the same.

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  4. You were lucky enough to be able to pay the fines that you incurred. Not everyone can, and one ‘mistake’ can effectively make it so lower income families no longer use the library. That’s a steep price to pay to learn responsibility.

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    1. I learned the responsibility at a very young age when my fine was paid. It was so horrific to me that I’ve never been late with a book since. Can’t the lower income families return their books on time?

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      1. As I said, everyone makes mistakes, whether they are lower income, middle income, or higher. By putting a financial penalty on an honest mistake, it decreases the availability of a ‘free’ resource to the very people who need it most.

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        1. An honest mistake, sure. So, maybe they should forgive the first fine? I could see that. I also thought it was a good idea to have “amnesty day”, when all books could be returned for no fee. But to make it a routine practice? I think that just encourages irresponsibility.

          Liked by 1 person

  5. When they did this at the university library on my campus, they said it was because a student would rather not return something than pay a small fine. They were losing a lot of money from materials not coming back. When I worked in acquisitions for the library you had to pay a very large fee for loan rights so a lost book, costing you $25 at Barnes and Noble costs a library over $100 when you buy loan rights to go with it.

    I agree though. Okay, so their account gets locked. Who then pays for the replacement of that item? You and me and everyone else on hold for the item is now punished. Ridiculous.

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    1. I’m glad you explained the “loan rights” to me! So that is the reason we couldn’t replace the items for them; good reason!

      And, your second paragraph voices my opinion perfectly! Who pays for the replacement of the item, or waiting for it, or not having access to it all? We do! Ridiculous is right, especially when the library is claiming better access. Access for whom?!

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  6. Perhaps some of us are viewing the issue only as an educated middle class citizen. I think the issue of access pertains to those who might have a disability, work more than one job, have no spouse or other support person, or have no personal vehicle, who cannot physically get to the library within the due dates. That does not necessarily mean they do not intend to return it at all. And the embarrassment of yet another public shaming can be traumatizing, especially to the children of such families. I would rather be inconvenienced than have anyone lose access to use. I believe that any type of reading is educational, and that education should be accessible to all, especially in a public library.

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    1. I can appreciate all the comments you made, and the kind heart you have. I, too, want to be known for compassion. Yet, I am so concerned about the trend I see in responsibilities falling by the wayside. Again, not to belabor the point: if a person can find a way to check out the books, how come they can’t return them in a timely manner? Just wondering…

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      1. I thought I had provided some ideas as to why people can’t return books in a timely manner. There are many barriers that you and I are not even aware of. And asking “how come” lower income families can’t function as if they have all the resources you do does show significant privilege. They are not necessarily being irresponsible if their schedule does not allow for a visit every three weeks. It just may be that they have other responsibilities that justifiably take precedence. If a person can only make it to the library once a month, for whatever reason, and returns materials regularly on that schedule, would you deny them access if they can’t afford the fines? I know personally, my grandmother was a shut in who relied on me to pick up and return for her, and as I worked full time in a different town and had babies at home, I did not always return within the 3 weeks, and appreciated our library’s no fees policy. I am now a single mother and often struggle to get my own books back in time, mostly due to the overwhelming stress of being a sole provider, and I have the benefit of only working one job and having my own vehicle. If you require knowing everyone’s “how come” they can’t do what you can do, you are passing judgement on who’s worthy of using the free public library.

        Personally, I would rather people use the library irresponsibly than not at all. And hopefully while doing so, they meet and learn from someone about responsible library use.

        Also, from the perspective of the library, the new policy makes good $ sense. Consider replacing books as a cost of doing business. If you can get a book back after five weeks with no fines, that is better than at three weeks charging fines you will never collect and losing a book and a patron in the process.

        To be honest, I am greatly disappointed. Those who can afford to be generous, but would rather withhold from others under the guise of fairness, sadden me. If you want to be known for compassion, be compassionate. Even if your sense of justice is offended.

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        1. CS, you do not know me. You are in no position to judge if I am compassionate or not because I disagree with suspending fines. I, too, was a single mother and sole provider for my child. I, too, worked full time, and paid for our home, his daycare, my car, and all the assorted bills a household acquires after my husband let us, taking all our savings with him. I give tremendously at our church, and help widows every week. I give of my time as a servant to those who need me now that I am retired, How dare you say that if I want to be known as compassionate, be compassionate?

          That said, I would never refuse anything to someone who needed it. What I disagree with is the trend I see in our country of enabling people who will not stand up as you and I have to provide for ourselves and our families.

          Please do not criticize my allegiance to personal responsibility when it is possible.❤️

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  7. Here’s my sad story: When I was a school librarian, I went to extraordinary lengths to entice parents to check out books from the public library, including a night at the library. We had a great turnout, and, after the presentation about all the services available at the library, parents went to check out books for their children. When the parents went to check out the books, a half dozen were not allowed to check out the books because of lost books in their distant past. It was a horrible situation.

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    1. Ah, Deb, I totally understand that. Our school librarian had a Family Reading Night, too, to encourage reading. The educators in us want to have everyone share our love of literature! I am sorry that they had past fines that plagued them. What a dilemma…I am sure you were/are the perfect librarian for the families you touch.

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  8. When I was in school, both undergrad and grad school as I recall, if we still had items checked out of our library at the end of our senior year or overdue items, they held one’s diploma. I agree that there’s a value in learning life lessons.

    I also see the library’s position, though. Libraries are fantastic resources for people who have less economically to still have access to literature (your comment about Kafka on the Shore notwithstanding). I’ve worked with a lot of people in that position, and been in that position myself once or twice, and I know how difficult it is sometimes to “just follow the rules.” Rules become amazingly more easy to follow when one has more economic means, whether we’re talking about library rules or laws. Given the deplorable intellectual state of our country, I’m personally in favor of “removing barriers to access,” not because I don’t think that learning to follow the rules isn’t a necessary life lesson, but because I don’t think the library is the institution to do that teaching. It’s likely better found in the books contained therein.

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    1. “Rules become amazingly more easy to follow when one has more economic means, whether we’re talking about library rules or laws.” I’m wondering if the two are tied together; following rules and economic means…

      I truly don’t know, but there seems to me to be a connection between responsibility and economic strength. (Wow, I never thought this post would create so many responses from people, and cause me to think it though even further. Thank you for visiting and commenting.)

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I got into a Twitter dialogue on this issue recently – some librarians said they have evidence fines acted as a deterrent to people joining a library and since the income from fines was miniscule they decided to remove them.

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