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.