Every so often I spot someone at my local library who is paying a late-return fine that almost equals the cost of the book they are returning. I often wonder why, at that point, they don't just kick in the last buck or two and keep the book for themselves. Now I see that one Florida county library system has a policy of never charging late fees and that the result is that they are losing fewer books than ever before. That makes perfect sense to me the more that I think about it. Not having to face a cash penalty upon returning a book late might make some people more likely to return a book than not. It sure works for Alachua County, Florida.
The county turned over a new leaf after a 1970s study found it cost an average of $21,000 in staff time to handle $13,000 in income generated by fines annually. Shortly after the change, library staff found that more materials were being returned to the libraries once patrons no longer faced fines.My library branch charges 10 cents a day for overdue books and 25 cents per day on overdue DVDs or CDs. It takes a while for the fines to add up to much money at those rates but I wonder what the tipping point is for some patrons. Do they avoid returning a book that has $10 worth of late fees attached to it? Or is it at the $25 level that approaches the cost of many books? Maybe more libraries should try the Alachua County approach rather than hiring private bill collectors who resort to making credit agency reports on patrons who have unpaid library fines. Interesting.
Nearly three decades later, library officials are still convinced the policy is ultimately a more cost-effective way to manage the 2.85 million items that are circulated annually.
According to Phillis Filer, public services administrator at the Headquarters Library in Gainesville, Alachua County libraries get back a higher percentage of loaned materials today than they did when fines were in effect.
Filer added that since the change, Alachua County libraries have lost fewer books than other libraries that still charge fines, although exact numbers could not be located.