Why We Need Library Fines

Over at the Guardian, there was an article about the desire to get rid of library fines. Being a Circulation Manager I am the one in charge of fines and fees. And it is not my favorite aspect of the job. Especially as most of our patrons are undergraduate college students who have hardly any money and quickly feel the pinch if they incur large fines. It would be great if we could erase our system of library fines, but honestly, I don’t believe any other method would work. To publicly shame a student, like they did when monasteries held the libraries, would not mean too much for most students. Sure, there will be those who get embarrassed quickly and don’t like that shame, but most of our repeat offenders I feel could honestly care less that they were publicly shamed by the library. I know as an undergraduate student I was consumed by my studies and the fact that the library would announce I was a horrible person would hardly ruffle my feathers as long as I got to keep my book. And the idea about doing a point system might work, but again, I think it wouldn’t deter most students from keeping our books. There are students who use the library once for their papers (especially as now more and more information is moving online) and if they never come back, then what does it matter if they get any points? Some students may like the idea of playing against me in Guitar Hero to try to get their fines waived, but with busy schedules and other more exciting activities, I can’t see them stopping by. Even if they know it would be an easy win (I’m horrible at Guitar Hero).

No, library fines should stay. What speaks the most to undergraduate college student? Money. I always can get undergraduate college students to listen to me or reply to my emails when I mention the monetary amount of their fines. We don’t make much money off of fines (I’m sure most of our undergraduate students think we do), but it is just a mechanism to remind them to be responsible. And we’re not without grace. Once a year we do have a Jubilee Week where we forgive students fines (with some limitations such as if they still have a lost library book). This year I am planning to kick it up a notch and have a Coffee Bar with some cookies. Just to let students know that we do appreciate them and want them to be able to use our library. That we’re not heartless, or “Scrooges”. And most often, if the student can’t pay their fine (or if circumstances outside their control happen), we forgive their fines. They have to come talk to us, but we do exhibit grace. We understand because we too often know what it is like to be stuck in a hard spot.

If the system works, I say use it. Maybe in other areas there are different things that would work better then money. But with America and our capitalist structure, we need the monetary fine system. And if a patron never comes back because they have a huge fine or end up never returning book, then it is okay. Often there are several other people who still use the library and the library can always make up services to assist their patrons in other ways. There are many things the library can still do to show their patrons that they don’t care only about their pocketbooks or our books.