Pay up and return the goods, library asks

May. 20, 2014 @ 04:18 PM

The Durham County Library wants patrons who are holding onto the latest bestsellers or plowing through classics like Victor Hugo’s “Les Miserables” way past their due date to pay up and return the items.

Earlier this month, the library ended a policy of waiving late fees of more than $25. The library has printed fliers available in its branches that remind patrons of the policy change, and of the ways they can renew materials to avoid the fines.

The problem of high fines affects all materials the library lends – books, CDs, DVDs and other media – said Tammy Baggett, director of the Durham County Library. The practice of waiving the fees goes back to 2007 (Baggett took office in 2010). She and the library staff reviewed the practice and found “substantial sums of money that were being waived.”

The number of library users with high fines is small in comparison to the number of card holders in the system, Baggett said. Of 161,000 library card holders, 5,212 have $25 or more in fines (about 3.2 percent), she said. Those late patrons owe a collective total of $201,280, Baggett said.

The library charges 25 cents a day in fines for materials, with a three-day grace period. On the fourth day the item is overdue, the amount increases to $1. The maximum fine per item is $5, but patrons can run up big fines if they check out and hold onto multiple items. The library allows a card holder to borrow up to 50 books, audiobooks, CDs and other items, and up to 10 DVDs.

Hoarding materials not only denies other patrons access to materials but also costs the library in other ways.

“If it’s a bestseller that’s not being returned on time, then that generates our having to order more books” to meet customer demand, Baggett said.

The library has a formula for ordering extra materials that is based on the number of requests for holds and the number of copies. The ratios are 4-to-1 for books, 5-to-1 for audio-visual materials, and 7-to-1 for ebooks, and librarians also use professional judgment, Baggett said.

“For those who are accruing fines, they may have good reasons, but we have measures in place that can keep them from accruing fines,” Baggett said. Patrons can renew materials in person, online and by phone. And the number of renewals for many items also is generous, she pointed out – five renewals for books, DVDs and Nooks (as long as no one has placed a hold request).

Scofflaws don’t need to worry about getting a nasty phone call from a collection agency. While some libraries use collection services, Durham does not “and we don’t want to get to that point. Library policies allow for legal action “but we have not had to get to that level and I don’t expect that we will,” Baggett said.

“We really want the materials returned on time,” she said “It is a mark of service excellence when you can walk into our libraries and get the books that you want more readily.”

To renew online, visit durhamcountylibrary.org, or call 919-680-2524.