It is widely acknowledged, in the year of our lord 2016, that fines disproportionately impact the poor (who cannot pay them). This includes court fees and even library overdue book charges, which is why public libraries are announcing amnesties and why there’s a growing movement to end library fines.
But one public library in Alabama has found itself between a rock and a hard place. The Athens-Limestone Public Library has announced a new campaign to get people to return borrowed library books, and yes scofflaws could get jail time.
“We have too many outstanding books that haven’t been returned. People with several hundred dollars worth of library materials that are sitting at home,” Executive Director Paula Laurita said. And with the total amount of missing items worth nearly $200,000, the library decided something needed to change.
An ordinance has been on the books for some time now, but after events earlier in the year didn’t convince enough people to return what they had, Laurita decided it was time to enforce it.
“It’s not our first step. Our first step is to have a good relationship with our patrons and remind them to bring everything back,” Laurita said.
If you do have overdue materials, you will get a reminder via text or email. And if you ignore those, a certified letter will head your way, saying you have 10 days to get everything settled. If that doesn’t work, a court summons will be issued. Ignoring that could result in another fine and possibly jail time in extreme cases.
As much as we would all like to scream and shout about sending people to jail over library books, it’s really too early for that. We don’t yet know that anyone will be sent to jail when the county starts to enforce the ordinance.
The librarians at the Athens-Limestone Public Library are as cognizant of the problem as we are, and they would not take this step if they didn’t need the money (or at least the materials returned rather than replaced).
That library serves a population of around 80,000 people, and it has an annual budget of about half a million dollars. Its budget for buying new acquisitions is under $50,000 a year, so if it tried to simply replace all of the missing material the library would not be able to buy anything else for the next four years.
So no, this is not a small problem.
image via Athens Plus