Late Fines

If you’re a library patron, you’re probably looking at the title of this post and thinking “WHHHHAAAA?????  Librarians love late fines!  They live for late fines!  If it were legal to marry late fines, librarians wouldn’t end up as sad spinsters!”  To which I say, guys, what’s with the spinster stereotype?  Seriously, not all librarians are single and depressed.   Many of us are married and equally depressed.  But I digress.

The salient point here is that late fees are often the bane of librarians’ collective existences.   We become librarians because of a desire to help others by providing information and assistance.  I love my job due to the many ways in which I can make someone’s life better through my work, even if it’s only through small acts.   But late fines do not enrich the library experience; staff  do not enjoy collecting them any more than patrons enjoy paying.  It’s difficult to cultivate trust among those we serve when we are also required to punish them financially for not following rules.   It’s like giving them a fiscal slap on the wrist.  Bad patron!  Bad!

I know that late fines are useful.  At least, I know the reasoning for them.  Patrons need some sort of incentive to return their books on time, and that incentive is to avoid paying money.  Also, fines supplement dwindling library budgets.   But this logic means nothing to me when I’ve spent the better part of an hour helping a family find books for various projects and assignments, but they are unable to take the books home because they can’t pay the fines blocking their account.  Blergh.

Some libraries like DC Public Library are experimenting with alternate fine models that do away with the daily fines typically imposed by libraries.  Lyndon State College has reported that forgoing late fees has helped to reduce theft of items.   Libraries could also consider offering amnesty days to help get books back into the hands of those who need them.

Next time your loving local librarian asks you to pay a fine, please know that they loathe this part of the interaction just as much as you do.  Possibly more.

Stickers, Labels, and Other Stuff All Over Library Items

Steve Jobs Hates Stickers

Brand new to the Hit list are all those labels your coworkers think help people to find their items.

Tell me if this sounds familiar: “Oh! This book is a Mystery, so let’s put a big ‘M’ on the cover! OH! and it is in Large Print, so let’s make that ‘M’ GIANT and add a GIANT ‘LP’ to the spine. Also- this just happens to be popular right now, so we’ll just slap a big sticker ribbon on it so people know. Oh! and one last thing! because this is popular right now, the circ period is shorter and people need a giant label to tell them even though the due date will be on their receipt when they leave and they’ll still get the automated notification.”

Every time a brand new item covered in stickers and labels and signs is placed on a library shelf, zombie Melvil Dewey kills a kitten. Just tell your staff that. We already know that library workers LOVE kittens. Just let them know that if library staff thinks they’re helping anyone by making every item look like it came from a hoarder’s postmortem garage sale, the kittens will get it.

Editor’s Note: no kittens were harmed in the writing of this post. Also- did you know that exists? Hmm. I love it!

Superfluous Signage

It’s important to know the rules. This we know. If it’s against the rules to eat here, it’s important to know that. If it’s against the rules to be on your phone here, it’s important to know that as well. Signs can help with this sometimes, but for the most part get ignored or misunderstood.

Signs are wholly ineffective. They cost money to make and most people treat them as if they are not there. What’s funnier (at least to me) is when a library worker will decide that for every rule, there will be a sign. Librarians of all people should know that too much information is equivalent to not enough information. We call it noise. Noise is the reason you can’t find a local teenage band called “Face for Radio” in google search results (seriously- there are like 80 bands that thought this would be a good band name. It’s not a good band name). Noise is the reason you can’t find the book titled like The Help using only a title search (Ms. Stockett, I’m looking at you).

What actually works, though, is to tell someone that they’re breaking the rules. Look- I’ll show you: “Hello, library patron. I see you are having a phone conversation. If you could please finish your phone conversation outside, it would be greatly appreciated.”  I don’t make the rules. I’m just the guy that gets yelled at by other library patrons when you’re chatting away about what your teen-aged boyfriend tweeted that was OMG so LOL.

Some people want to think that if there isn’t a sign, there isn’t a rule. How convenient would that be? “Oh I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to just take what I wanted from your bag. Where’s the sign that says that I can’t do that?” Ignorantia juris non excusat. If you don’t believe me, just ask a lawyer (IANAL).

I once saw a sign in a library bathroom that read something like “Misuse of the bathrooms is against Library Policy.” But if we apply logic, the people that misuse the bathrooms are not going to be dissuaded from doing so by this sign, and the people who weren’t going to, didn’t need the sign in the first place. Why does this sign exist?

Librarians and library workers, let’s get it together. A piece of paper taped to the wall can’t do our jobs for us. Don’t bother putting a sign up that says “Don’t poop on the bathroom floor.” Yeah it might still happen, but at least it won’t give any borderline characters any ideas and it won’t make it on BuzzFeed’s list of terrible (read: terribly funny) Library signs. Human interaction is far more meaningful and lasting than any sign could be.

So if you feel the need, just tell people personally — with all your kindness and charm — not to poop on the bathroom floor when they ask where the bathroom is.

Bookdrops After Holidays

If you’re a library enthusiast, but don’t actually work in a library, it might surprise you to know about the volume of materials that come through our bookdrops- especially if the library is well used (as it should be!). For instance, Flickr user kuriousoranj put this picture up of a typical library bookdrop on a typical morning.


This picture is presumably after only a little while of library closedness. Imagine the pile of items that make their way back to a library after a holiday. There must be something about a holiday that makes everyone want to purge their residences of library materials. Personally, I want my library to be as popular as a whore on prom night, but usually we’re the chubby girl that’ll hold your hand and nothing else. Even with our modest popularity, our bookdrop after a holiday is full as a tick.

I’m adding the Post-Holiday Bookdrop to the Hit list with one caveat: it’s us, not you. The overflowing bookdrop might be easy for a library worker to hate, but it’s easier to complain about a problem than solve it sometimes. Coming back from a holiday is bad enough, but having a workload that’s 160% what it normally is doesn’t help. So if you visit a library after a holiday, tell your local library worker to cheer up, power through that bookdrop, and get back to wasting time on Facebook.