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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

Overdue Books and Credit Collection

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, March 1, 2009

Recently, libraries on the local and national level have been receiving publicity regarding the use of credit collection for overdue library materials and overdue fines.


Yes, our library system uses credit collection to achieve the return of overdue materials, and the collection of overdue library fines.


We have done so for about 20 years.


It is unfortunate that any public library must do so, but it is a responsible method of achieving the return of public property that was purchased collectively with tax revenue.


The shock seems to come when the first "billing notice" is sent by the library, and the replacement cost of all of the books that someone has checked out arrives in the mail box.


The armload of books that someone checks out can easily convert to an invoice for $ 200.


"But, they are just library books!" is the usual comment, followed by an explanation that they were purchased with tax dollars for everyone's benefit.


A decade ago, our library system switched to a credit collection agency that specializes in library collections.


In that time period, they have collected a total of $ 296,198 worth of library materials and overdue fines for us.


That is a total of almost 6,000 delinquent library card accounts.


In 2008 alone, the collection total was $ 26,915.


These are all library materials that are overdue by at least 60 days from the date that they are supposed to be returned.


Our computer system now provides pre-overdue e-mail notification, as well as mails reminder notices for items "shortly overdue."


Items can be renewed online or by calling the library if there is no one waiting for the item, and still things are overdue.


In my 39 years of working in libraries, I have heard every excuse possible for not returning something that is overdue.


The most memorable happened nearly that long ago, when a woman came into the library in tears, with a paper bag full of books.


"They were sitting on my attic floor," she exclaimed, and he recounted the ugly language that she had used with the librarian years before when pressed for the return of these books.


Under the car seat, in the car's trunk, under the bed/sofa/chair, and "my friend returned it for me" are all the common locations of overdue books.


Librarians simply want our "stuff" returned to the library for others to use and enjoy.


Management of overdue library items is probably our least favorite part of the job.


Overall, overdues are a small issue with our library system.  While the monetary numbers seem large, in reality only one percent of everything checked out goes overdue, and only half of that number becomes chronically overdue.


Still, it is something not available for someone else to use in our libraries.


Computers have helped the overdue problem, and pre-overdue notices have been a great addition to our service.


The problem is that e-mail addresses change more frequently than snail mail addresses, and at any point, ten percent of our library cards have outdated addresses.


So, when you want to buy that new washer/dryer, and the library has your credit blocked because of those overdue library books from 2002; just remember it isn't "personal."


We just want things returned for the next person to enjoy.