Saturday, November 13, 2010

Shelf Check

By Kathie Felix


In my little corner of the world (northern Virginia), the local library system recently instituted a policy of charging fines for overdue materials. As I understand it, the county’s residents lived without overdue penalties all these years because, up until recently, this was essentially a rural county where folks had to travel long distances (with no opportunity for public transport) to visit a library. The powers that be considered overdue books to be a matter of course in such a situation and didn’t want to impose an economic burden on an already-stretched community.

Things have changed here these days. The suburbs have taken over the fields – and I’m not sure if there’s a dairy farmer left in the county. At the same time, the local tax base is shrinking due to losses in the real estate and business communities.

Lately, the county budget is being stretched like taffy in a candy shop window at the beach. Every local agency and system is under the order to “do more with less” and, I guess, this fine-collecting idea is a way to ease some burden somewhere.

I’m not sure what I think about the new fines – or the kiosk-based method of collecting them. I do know that I’m very glad that, up until recently, I lived in a community that considered access to library materials more important than economic sanctions.

This brings me to a couple of questions for the weekend:

Have you returned all those books you’ve been meaning to get back to the library?

and

What treasures did you find in the library this week?

11 comments:

Sandra Parshall said...

I couldn't live without libraries. When I was a child, library books were my greatest source of entertainment as well as education about the rest of the world. Libraries fueled my desire to write and made me believe it was possible for me to become a writer. The biggest thrill of my life was seeing my first book in the online catalog of my local library system. That made me feel like a real writer.

All libraries are hurting from cutbacks these days, so we need to support them with donations to Friends of the Library groups and purchases of materials on libraries' wish lists. And yes, if something we've checked out is overdue, we shouldn't fuss about paying a small fine!

artandliterature said...

I love the library! My wife and I make destination walks there, since I'm usually returning one book and picking up another. Our local library is the new (relatively new) Burke Centre Library, and I simply love it.

Last book checked out (and reading now) is The Laughing Policeman by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, a wife-and-husband team who were the FIRST Scandinavian crime sensation. That book was the fourth in their ten-book series and won them an Edgar Award for best novel (and from what I've read so far, much deserved).

Polly said...

I'm constantly at our library. It was built after years of fundraising by Friends of the Library and it's beautiful. We have the option online to renew books, video, and audio. If it takes people longer than two months to return an item, they deserve a fine, especially with funding at an all-time low.

Barbara said...

Some people are daunted by fines and won't use libraries because they have trouble keeping track of what they borrowed and returning things on time. I don't mind paying fines, because it's a donation to the library. Something is badly wrong, though, when libraries depend upon fines for needed revenue.

Elise M Stone said...

Libraries are near and dear to my heart. Growing up, I didn't know you could actually buy books! My mother used to walk all three of us kids to the library every other Saturday. Then we'd come home and we'd all sit in the living room reading for the rest of the afternoon.

Since I grew up in suburbia, I always knew there were fines for overdue books. (I also didn't understand how anyone could have them be overdue since I usually finished reading the six books I'd taken out-the maximum allowed-before my two weeks were up and was dying to go back and get new ones.)

Two years ago I moved to the far southeast corner of Tucson and found the local library branch tiny and sorely lacking. The only way to get the books I wanted to read was to reserve them and have them delivered from another branch. It's amazing how library use has grown in that short time. They had to add several shelves for reserved books because, obviously, the economy is keeping people from buying books and, hopefully, people are reading instead of participating in other entertainment for which they have to pay.

I couldn't believe how excited and grateful the librarian was when I told her about the SinC grant money. I also frequently go to the Friends of the Library book sales and donate books I no longer want to them.

Lynn said...

As a librarian I feel bad about asking for fines because I know some people just haven't the money. However, we don't charge fines on books ... just DVDs and InterLibrary loans. We also allow people to call or email us to renew library materials.

We couldn't survive without our Library Friends group -- this past year they donated over $9000 worth of supplies and programs. That may not seem like much but our budget is $130,000 total so that is certainly a help.

Libraries really do appreciate all the help they can get and thank you!

Linda Leszczuk said...

I don't remember ever using a library that didn't have overdue fines and I've always accepted them as necessary to keep people from bringing books back "when they got around to it", if at all. Sometimes common courtesy needs a nudge.

But our library makes it as easy as possible. They send e-mail notices when books are due and let you renew on line. Plus, the books for our monthly "Tea and Mystery" reading group are automatically checked out for the month instead of the normal three weeks. I love our library.

Fran Stewart said...

I attended a meeting of the board of my county's library system last year. Someone had proposed that they increase the amount of the daily fine for overdue books. The Board voted overwhelmingly against it.

The reason was that if the per day amount went up, people might return all their books on time. A small but still significant part of the library's operating budget comes from fines, and they didn't want to put that at risk.

I only occasionally have an overdue book, but when I pay my 20 cents, I know it's going to a good cause!

More than that, though, I regularly donate a portion of my book sales to the library. After all, my protag is a librarian.

Pat Marinelli said...

I also remember library fines as being a learning experience, if I didn't return my book on time Mom said I had to pay the fine out of my allowence. The fine was a penny a day. I really don't remember that happening, bu then I worked two days a week after school at the tiny library next door. I started doing that in fourth grade. It was my introduction to community service, but I didn't know that back then. All I knew was I loved finding the card, putting it back in the returned book and then shelving the book.

As a grown up I volunteer at the Robert E Lee Civil War Library and Research Center which combines my love of libraries and history. There we don't find people but only members can remove the books.

I also donate all my used books to the Friends for their book sale. One year, when I cleaned out my office and house, they told me that made $400 on just my donated books alone. Of course, I also have cut back on book buying so my donation has gotten smaller but they is still appreciated.

Anonymous said...

Nov. 8 checked out "A Pale Horse" by Charles Todd, "All Things Undying" by Marcia Talley (trying a new author) and "Portobello" by Ruth Rendell. Must go through 1-2 mysteries per week from the Library. Library also great source for craft ideas, either from books or magazines. When my computer died, I used the library computers to check e-mail until I got a replacement. Local library also provides meeting place for various groups. Glen Ellyn is my hometown library, but I also frequent neighboring Wheaton. I've never gotten a DVD player and Wheaton is a good source for VHS movies. Grandson and I have gone through the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy several times.

Regarding fines, my local library will e-mail you a reminder if you sign up for the service.

Can't imagine life without libraries!

Kathryn Gandek-Tighe said...

Many libraries run not only on public funds but private donations. In this economy, those private donations can make all the difference in the quality of materials, hours open and staff available. If you go back to the beginning of libraries in the US, many (possibly all) libraries were privately funded and in some cases open only to those who paid money for the privilege. A few of those private libraries still exist.

As I've spent more time with my own library helping them raise money, I've been struck at how people expect a library to be something that should be provided to them by their town and paid for by taxes. It's great that people feel access to books is an entitlement. However, the reality is that private funds are frequently helping keep these public institutions running.