Please return your library books (or else)…

The continued wanderings of a newly minted librarian


All libraries at one time or another have had to deal with the issue of getting their books back. Some solve this in the beginning by not letting anyone take the books out of the library. Visions of old tomes chained to reading stations come to mind. In the world of lending libraries, the books go out and then must come back.

Most (all?) public libraries charge fines when books become overdue. This encourages patrons to return the book by the due date if they don’t want to pay. These libraries also will often block patrons from using library resources if they have overdue books or unpaid fines. This works to some degree. However there does come a point when a book is so overdue that the fines are quite hefty. Some patrons are embarrassed that the book is so overdue, and some just don’t want to pay $50 for a $5.99 book. The result is the same, the book doesn’t get back to the library and the patron becomes a former patron who no longer uses the library. Needless to say, both of these situations are not good for the library.

Some brilliant librarian came up with library amnesty day (I don’t know which library was the first to do this but kudos to them). Once a year a time period is set up when patrons can return overdue books and not pay any fine. Yes the library does lose the money they would get from the fine, but they get the items back which is the whole purpose of charging fines in the first place. If the amnesty day or week is well publicized, it can really work well and get patrons back into the library which is where we want them.

At the community college library where I work we do things a bit differently. We do encourage students to bring the books back on time or at least renew the books, but we don’t charge overdue fines. We only allow students to have library privileges during the current semester they are enrolled. In other words, all students expire at the end of every semester. If they are taking classes the following semester, their library account will automatically update at the beginning of that semester. We have a set date near the end of each semester when we recall all books. Any students who have books out past that date have hold put on them. This is the amazing power we have to get our books back. The holds prevent students from registering for classes, getting financial aid, graduating, getting grades, and getting transcripts. Of course as soon as the books are returned the holds are removed and everyone is happy. Most students return the items either on time or within a week of the hold being put on. Some wait until the next semester they go to take classes and then find they are blocked and return the book. Occasionally we get people calling up saying they are trying to get a transcript from the school but they are blocked because they didn’t return books back in 1995 (yes we keep records that go way back!). In that case the student needs to pay for the books they have had for so many years.


Just remember, we like loaning books out but we want to keep doing it. If you keep the book, we can’t do that. Libraries all across the country are having budgets slashed. In fact for years, library budgets have been stagnant. People have been rediscovering the joys and advantages of libraries now that the economy is bad. Libraries are extremely economical and provide such wonderful services. Do your part by returning borrowed items on time. You know what it is like waiting for a book that you want to read to be returned, so be a conscientious borrower. If you do find yourself in the situation of having a library book over due for such a long time that the fines are difficult for you to pay, talk to the library folks. They may have an amnesty time or they may set up a reasonable payment plan. Enjoy your library!