Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Keeping Library Fines Under Control

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.


ga447 said...

I have had 1 find over many many years. I am at the library at least twice a week. It is my favorite place. At our library we have quite a few homeschoolers so on the shelf you would see tons of books under the same name. I love my library and thank goodness they are still around.

Teresa in Music City said...

Wow - you do have that down to a science! I only have to worry about me, but I'm notorious about losing track of the time, so I put the receipt up on the fridge as soon as I come home with books, and I look at it every day to make sure I'm not late. Life gets so busy - I can't even imagine what it would be like if I had a child or two! Thankfully, I raised my children when I still had a brain :)

Happy Cottage Quilter said...

We are readers too. When my kids were young, we made it a policy to have a special place for the library books. A basket or a container, so that when the child was reading from a library book, that was the holding place. It made life a little easier when it was time to return the books. We also have had books go missing, but our library would grant us an additional renewal until it was returned. Twice we had returned books and it did not show up in their system. Once we dropped the books in the book drop outside the library. I was positive of the return. They never questioned it. The second time, I did what you suggested. I went to the shelf and found the book and marched right up to the librarian. She was very sweet and just said sometimes when they are checking in many books, the computer might miss something. Now that my children are all grown I have been reading library books on my kindle. Wow has that been a wonderful new approach. I download the books and usually have them read before they are called back into the system. I LOVE my kindle :-)

barbara woods said...

We have always read, used to drag my children to the library all the time, makes for smart kids

Dirt Road Quilter said...

We too are a family of voracious readers. We spent so much time in the library that they offered me a job. I could make my own hours and I and I automated the library. We checked out oodles of books. It was a no fine library and seldom did they run into any problems.
I had an old wooden chest that housed all the library books and it made returning books simple.

QuiltinLibraryLady said...

Good post. I'm happy to hear that yours is a reading family. Sounds like you are extremely good for your library's usage statistics.

Those moms who want their kids to love books but won't put in the effort to keep track of library books might as well forget about getting their kids to love reading unless they are willing to buy their own books. Because ultimately it's the parent's responsibility to get those books returned on time....or graciously pay the fines.

I'm a small town librarian, and more than once I've had patrons insist they've returned a book, sometimes getting quite upset over it. I do a shelf check & invite them to look for the book on our shelves as well. If it can't be found I tell them to go home & look for it. Sometimes they come back with the book and a sheepish look on their face & pay the fine. Other times it IS found on the shelves and they get an apology & the fine is waived. We also freeze the cards for the whole family until the matter is settled....and that includes using the computers. Sometimes it takes a couple years to collect owed fines, but the computer never forgets and eventually they need to use the library. And some people never pay their fines even though they call once in a while saying they need to use the computers or something and ask if they owe a fine. They know darn well they do. They simply get told to pay the fines and all privileges will be restored. Some I never see again and that's fine too.


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