Alien abduction? Shiny objects? A five year coma?

Posted: June 19, 2009 in Uncategorized


Dog Ate My Library Book

Leave it to the San Francisco Public Library to turn its overdue book amnesty program into a creative writing contest.

Recently, borrowers with overdue books were allowed to bring them back without paying fines – which max out at $5 per book – but they had to tell the library why they were tardy.

A group of second-graders said they were too busy rescuing marine mammals.

One woman said she just couldn’t part with a beautiful early 20th century book with good-feeling paper and plate illustrations. It looked so posh on her shelf.

Another blamed his sister. After they had a falling out, she “accidentally” left a copy of the movie Babe that she had checked out in his name, tucked into his stack of DVDs. Hmmmmm.

Another woman admitted she checked out a book on Jewish romantic relationships looking for insight, and three partners later, she finally decided the book wasn’t helping.

Whatever the reason, the Library saw a record 29,228 items returned – compared to 5,000 returned books the last time they waived fines in 2001.

That’s $55,165 in fines that were excused.

“I think we did a lot of advertising about the amnesty, but I think the economy too is bringing people in. Every little bit helps,” said Library spokeswoman Michelle Jeffers.


During National Library Week this year, we also held a fine amnesty book return program, though without the creative idea of asking for alibis. I don’t know the exact numbers, because I can’t be bothered to remember them and you can’t make me, but I do know a lot of books came back that wouldn’t have, otherwise.  An awful lot. If we make that an annual tradition I’d expect an awful, awful lot would be returned.

And this sort of mathematical precision is why my husband doesn’t give control of the finances to me.

What’s the point of library fines, anyway? It’s to ensure we get our materials back, or at least to encourage it. It’s certainly not a large source of revenue. The $ .05/day fine we charge for late books certainly wouldn’t pay for a replacement. Not unless one kept a book out for generations, passing it along in one’s will. 

There’s just not much incentive to return a book until you’ve racked up a decent sum of money, enough so the average American finds it worthwhile moving off the sofa, driving to the library to pay it.  Here, the magic number is $ 5.00.  A patron’s card is blocked when fines hit that sum. A darn good idea, too. Darn good.

Before I worked in a library, many was the time I thumbed my nose at what I saw as a ridiculously low fine, keeping books ’til I was darn good and ready, dagnabbit. Even then, I never minded paying the library a paltry few dollars when I did return the books. In fact, between you and me, I enjoyed the feeling of adding to the library’s coffers, though I already did that via taxes (Thank you, McHenry County taxpayers! I guess.).

Yes, you heard it correctly: I INTENTIONALLY RACKED UP FINES!  And the result of that? Our main library (new as of 2001), which I’m hurt to say no one thought to name after me, despite a continuing revenue stream I donated readily and willingly. But no, despite my continuing grudge, I’m still not the one who “left a deposit” in the large type section a few years ago. I’m upset, but not THAT upset. I’m also not the one who “decorated” the library’s garage with a grandiose display of masculine fertility previously unseen by the human eye.

Well, save that one chalk drawing in England.


Those naughty Brits!

Wow, time to wrap up. I’ve gotten a bit off-topic.

I guess the moral of the story is, libraries ought to be creative in order to encourage the return of their overdue materials. Once a year or so, it’s no shame offering a fine amnesty of some sort. Even if you require something in exchange. Though fines seems so minimal, there are sometimes legitimate economic or other reasons people don’t return materials. It’s not always willful negligence. Or laziness. I think.

Whatever it takes to get the materials back, it’s worth it. It restores good community relations, lets patrons return things without embarrassment – allowing them to use their library again, and plugs those holes on the shelves. What’s not to love?


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