Over the years, I've met several mothers who refused to take their children to the library because they had problems with the fines. These same moms were trying -- and failing -- to get their kids excited about books.
I don't get it. Maybe because I met my husband in a used bookstore and was tromping around the library's annual book sale when I was in labor with my second.
My four children all love books. I love books. Between the five of us, we've usually got more than a hundred books checked out at any one time. (I'd love to know how many books we borrow over the course of a year. It's definitely more than a thousand.) And we manage to keep our fines and lost book fees down to almost nothing.
When I only had two kids, I would go through the entire house and search every drawer and closet and shelf to find every last book before it was due. I was terrified of library fines. These days, I have more kids and less energy and I just do my best. We lose a book or two a year and occasionally something is overdue. But my kids have all the reading material they could possibly want and I think that's a fair trade.
Here are my tips for keeping our library fines under control --
Know your library's policies on overdue fines and lost books.
Our library is fairly easy to work with. As long as you pay overdue fines and the fees for lost books, they're happy. But cards are frozen if the rack up more than five dollars in fines (which can keep you from renewing other books, which leads to more fines) and accounts are automatically turned over to collections if there is more than forty dollars due. That could be one or two lost books, so I keep a close eye on our card balances and pay any fines immediately.
Keep track of what you have checked out and when it's due.
The library gives us printed receipts each time we check out books. Five people, five receipts. Sometimes a book that was reserved from a different library has an unexpected due date. Some books get renewed and others get returned before they're due. I don't even try to keep track of those little paper receipts. Once a week, the day before our regularly scheduled library run, I log onto the library's website and pull up a list of every book we have checked out and sort by due date. Anything coming due before the next week gets returned or renewed. I try to return most books a week before the due date to give us a buffer in case we miss a week because someone is sick or the weather is bad.
Know how many times you can renew each item, and for how long.
Our library allows for three renewals, but my younger kids don't know that. I allow them to renew books twice. That third time is a safety cushion for me if a book goes missing.
Keep an eye on which books you return.
A handful of times a year, the library fails to check in one of our books properly. Once, a book that I'd been searching for for months completely vanished from our library records, along with the associated fines, the day I went in to pay for it. I never did get an explanation for that one. It's easier to deal with when I've been watching titles as I slip them into the book drop and I know for a fact that a book was returned. (My kids realize by now that the library isn't perfect, and they've been known to blame the library for books they can't find at home.) If you're sure you've returned a book, ask for a shelf check -- or check the shelf yourself. If you're not sure, check under your couch and the seats of your car. It's embarrassing to return a book after you've already insisted that you don't have it.
Try to prevent fines before they happen.
With our library system, once a fine shows up in the computer system, there's no changing it. A friend who uses a different library has been able to work off fines by volunteering, but ours are set in stone. When a book (or bag of books) has been temporarily lost and I've explained the situation, the librarian has been willing to override the system and give us an extra renewal. They can't do it for new books with holds on them, but in that kind of situation I'm happy for any break I can get. They've also been willing to extend renewals when an emergency kept us from getting to the library. As long as I ask before the books are overdue, I can usually get help, but I only ask for that help as a last resort.