Well, the Charlton Public Library finally made my main news source, the Guardian Books Blog, which repeats much of the incorrect reporting about the incident (that is, that there was a “police raid”, that the five-year-old’s two overdue books were the primary objective of the visit, etc).
That said, the Guardian does raise a good point: wasn’t there a time when people lived in fear of librarians?
I tried to write a measured response to this incident a couple of days ago because I was sure the library was getting a bunch of less-than-measured responses to the one-sided reporting on the part of Channel 4 (and now, as far as I can tell, CNN and a bunch of other news outlets). What follows is an expansion of that post based on some things I’ve read and comments from various readers.
The Cost of Audiobooks
From reading the comments on the Guardian site, some people seem to think the fine for the audiobook was $100. That the amount was not (completely) overdue fines — it’s just the cost of audiobooks on CD. If you’ve got an 8-CD audiobook, chances are the library paid somewhere between $60-$80 for it, and the audiobook in question (at least from the pictures) seemed to have more CDs than that. Some libraries (Westborough, for one) will affix a sticker on the back of the audiobook container to let you know the replacement cost of that material is $127.50 (or whatever the case may be). I’ve certainly checked out audio materials that cost over $100.
Those of us who listen to audiobooks on a regular basis know that there’s nothing more annoying than having someone keep an audiobook a week late, or — worse — never return it. Many of us borrow audiobooks from all across Central Mass, and sometimes only one library has the materials we’d like to listen to. If someone doesn’t return that audiobook, it’s a great disappointment.
This particular situation has kind of put two big parts of me at odds: the part that doesn’t really like law enforcement being unnecessarily involved in people’s lives, and the part that wants to hurt someone who never returned a book I really wanted to read. The former impulse won, but just barely.
Information from someone who actually knows something
When I’d written my original post, I was writing from a Worcester perspective.
A reader let me know that:
The Charlton library has always had “amnesty” periods when materials may be returned fine-free. There also are times when patrons may return overdue items and pay no fine if they bring in a donation to the town’s food pantry.
Evidently, some central Mass libraries now use a collection agency whose tactics are kinder and gentler than most agencies. According to the librarian who provided the information, it’s a pretty successful undertaking as people tend to pay up when their credit ratings are endangered.
I’d be interested to see what the ROI for the various approaches (police officer visit, collection agency, or letting particular scofflaws know about amnesty periods) would be.
Reminder about Worcester circulation policy changes
I forgot to let people know about this, but was luckily reminded to by a commenter.
The WPL has a new circulation policy.
Executive summary — You are now able to have 20 hold on your account (up from a previous limit of 10), all overdue fines for adults are 10 cents a day per item with a $2-per-item limit. However, there is now no maximum limit per card.