Monday, April 19, 2010

Even George Washington Had Overdue Books



There have only been two areas in which having media materials overdue causes people to be fined. The first is Blockbuster, which removed then may have reinstated late fees on the video rentals. The other would be libraries. Recently, it was discovered that George Washington had two library books checked out that were never returned. I don’t think that the library will be able to collect any late fees.

Is it time for the practice of late fees at libraries to be altered, or eliminated? I think so.

The practice of charging late fees for items that were not properly returned is simple, makes sense, and can be enforced even 200 years ago. The most effective part of having fees for overdue books is the fact that people can be compelled to pay attention to due dates without the need of technology. Once someone is informed of a due date when checking out a book, that person is responsible for returning the book on time, or else he or she will owe money. The late fees would motivate people to return books on time. In the possibility that a person cannot return a book on time, the person would still be motivated to return the book as soon as possible in order to minimize the amount of money owed to the library.

The reason why this practice should be altered is because with technology, more can be done to ensure that people return books to the library on time. Maybe libraries should have a person’s e-mail address on file so they can e-mail someone who checked out the book that it will be due the next day. An e-mail reminder can even be set into the library system with the use of software to send e-mails on certain days.

Also, I must say this. When someone checks out a old book that has not been checked out for a while, and no one has the book on the waiting list, holding that book late should not require a penalty because the person has not denied another user the ability to check out the book. There is a difference between new releases that are popular and items that are randomly checked out. For libraries to charge late fees for a book that no one else has requested just seems trivial because there is no reason for a book to be checked back in earlier if no one is currently requesting it.

While I believe that the library system should use technology to remind people of overdue books, I don’t believe that fines for books being late should completely be removed. Instead, books should have a due date and a fine date. By the due date, the person should either have the book checked out for a longer period of time. When Blockbuster removed late fees, they noticed that people were holding onto their videos for a long time after the due date. Some people will just continue to hold onto late items unless there is a financial penalty. Blockbuster had to bring back late fees because people were holding onto movies way too long. Basically, without some form of enforcement, the consumer is likely to hold items way past the due dates.

I must confess that just like George Washington, I had an overdue book that was way overdue. In 1997, I checked out a biography of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Last year (2009) I returned it to the library of my old high school. I realized as I walked through the high school to get to the library that the seniors were in kindergarten when I had checked out the book. These kids were only 6 years-old and now they are 18 years-old and about to go off to college. When I returned the book, I reminded the librarians that I had raised a lot of money for the library when I was a student. They did not charge me a late fee for the book.

1 Comments:

Blogger K Lowry said...

Mike, I don't intend to be a public librarian when I get my MLS, but as a public library user for many years I offer a few responses to your post -

"Maybe libraries should have a person’s e-mail address on file so they can e-mail someone who checked out the book that it will be due the next day."

Many libraries across the country are already doing this and have been offering this service for years. My local public library branch, Fairfax County, gives patrons the option of receiving reminders that books are ready to be picked up or are coming due by email, telephone or both. Patrons can modify their settings by logging onto their library account through the online public access catalogue (or as we librarians call it, OPAC). Fairfax's is located here: http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/library/catalogindex.htm

"There is a difference between new releases that are popular and items that are randomly checked out. For libraries to charge late fees for a book that no one else has requested just seems trivial because there is no reason for a book to be checked back in earlier if no one is currently requesting it."

Many libraries have shorter loan periods for new releases (like those hot Twilight books the kids are reading these days) and longer periods for books that are older. Some books are explicitly ONE WEEK or TWO WEEK only with no possiblity of renew. One has to reserve the book on hold and wait for the book to become available. Books can be reserved and renewed (which prevents the accumulation of late fees) by a patron's online account. To renew a book, a person doesn't have to physically go to a library and have their books stamped. They can just go online, and it's been that way for atleast a decade at many branches.

Further I'd like to say that with the severe budget cuts yet increased use of library resources, public libraries cannot meet the needs of their patrons without supplemental income previded by late fees. If they didn't receive income from late returns then they would have to resort to other measures of charging patrons for services that used to be free of minimal expense (xerox copies, internet use, etc.).

8:08 AM  

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