For 3 years, it ran in the Greeley Tribune. Since then, it has run in various subsidiaries of the Douglas County News Press. I still have most of my columns in digital format.
For many years, I only gave myself one rule: try to work the word "library" into every piece. My intent was to think in public about just what librarianship means at the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st.
There have been many advantages for me. I found that putting library plans out in front of the public, and getting feedback about them, helped me make better decisions. Sometimes, I found that it was very difficult for me to describe those plans or policies -- the kind of thing that makes me realize that they might not be good ideas after all. The weekly discipline of explaining my profession to the public keeps me more mindful, more honest. It also has provided steady visibility for the library and its issues.
April 30, 2002 - Dougie Dollars Help Pay for Fines
A friend of mine used to be the library director in a small town in Illinois. There was one little girl, Rebecca, that just couldn't get her books back on time. She was a bright, sweet child, and stopped by the library almost daily. And every day, at least one librarian would remind her, "Rebecca, you've got a book due tomorrow. Don't forget."
But she always did. Every book she checked out, she brought back late. That meant Rebecca had to pay overdue fines.
This infuriated her. Every time she'd bring back her books she'd wait as they were checked in. Then, "Do I have any fines?" she'd ask, nervously. Always, the answer was, "Yes." And Rebecca would stamp her little foot.
Now, the books were never outrageously late. But the librarians held her to the modest fine -- two cents a day -- in the vain hope that it would teach her to be a little more responsible. After all, they explained, other little girls wanted to read those books, too. Sometimes they let her work off her debt by putting the kid's books in order.
Then, one sunny Saturday morning Rebecca biked to the door, and carefully removed a basket full of books attached to her front fender. She carted it to the checkin desk.
"All of these are a day early," she said proudly (and loudly). "WHERE'S MY MONEY?"
"What could I do?" said my friend. "I paid her."
That was many years ago. It will surprise no one to learn that the price of an overdue book has gone up. On the other hand, it's hardly the rampant inflation of, say, the price of a house. At the Douglas Public Library District, we charge a nickel a day (for overdue materials, not houses) -- and for some items, we offer a "grace period" of a couple days extra. We do understand that people get busy.
We even cap the fine. For most things -- at least, providing that you bring it back -- we won't charge MORE than $3.00 per item.
Some libraries, incidentally, don't call them "fines" any more. They call them "extended use fees." It's just like any other kind of rental. If you want an item for a little extra time than usual, you pay a little more for the privilege. There's no shame attached to it -- just a decision on the part of a patron to buy more time. Your business.
Some libraries have done away with fines altogether, or just done away with them for children's materials. The last thing we want to do is to scare parents or children away from the library because they're afraid they're running up too big a tab.
To this day, when I'm introduced to people I've never met before, they often shift uneasily and say, "I've got a couple of books at home that are late." "Yes," I say sternly. "We know. That's why I'm here." Then I laugh. Sometimes, they do, too.
But I've noticed that people do remember fines, just as they remember late charges for video rentals. These little charges motivate all of us to dig around under the couch for things that otherwise wouldn't get used by anybody.
So despite the (I hope) modest discomfort fines may cause our patrons, we keep the fees because, just as we told Rebecca those many years ago, they help keep the books moving.
You may have noticed, however, our recent distribution of "Dougie dollars." These library coupons, featuring the friendly face of Dougie P. L. Dog, are redeemable only for fines (not to pay for lost books) and only at DPLD libraries.
So remember, you don't have to feel embarrassed when a book comes back a little late. We're not trying to bankrupt you, and we're delighted that you're using the library.
But it couldn't hurt to carry a Dougie dollar or two, just in case.