Library Fines Aren’t Fine

Do users deserve a jubilee?

Hermione doesn’t have ANY fines

A library in England is raising eyebrows as it dramatically raises its fees.

Library users brought to book as fines go up

Borrowers will face a maximum fine of £10, up from £6, for overdue items although daily fines for late returns will remain at the current rate of 20p.

In future only children aged under 18 will be exempt from being fined for the late return of a loaned item.

The cost of reserving books from other libraries will double from £2 to £4.

Other changes will include charges for the full cost of any lost stock, whereas at the moment people only have to pay half the replacement cost if the item is more than three years old.

At the same time, some experts are arguing that library fees are immoral.

And the academic Heath White muses about our responsibility to pay our fines in a timely fashion, since we can carry them without penalty, or interest, for months at a stretch.

I have detected, in some people, an attitude about public library fines that is similar to the moralized attitude toward personal debts. That is, some people feel that incurring library fines at all is a (small) personal failing, and if you do incur them you should pay them off as soon as possible. Carrying them for lengthy periods of time is a character flaw. And all this is true regardless of the rules or penalties around fines and borrowing. On this view, of course, my attitudes and actions vis-à-vis my library fines are blameworthy.

My attitude is blameworthy too, no doubt. I carry a balance on my library card for the same reasons as White does. I’ve accrued it gradually over time, a quarter here, a dollar there (stupid kids’ DVDs!). At some point, it will rise to the level at which I’m blocked from borrowing books, but it hasn’t yet; and there’s no super easy and convenient way to pay. The check-out folks don’t take cash, so to pay your fine, you have to go to a separate machine and use your credit card. I’m not saying it’s as hard as sending a man to the moon, but it’s not as easy as looking up at the moon, either. You know how we Millennials need everything to be frictionless or we won’t bother.

Anyway, I don’t think library fines are immoral in quite the way that, for example, overdraft fees are, since those enrich banks at the expense of young people without a lot of money who are trying to avoid credit cards, or, even worse, policing-for-profit is. But I am heartened when libraries consider alternatives to cash — and even to punishment — like Amnesty Weeks, Ride Your Bike, Reduce Your Fine, and Food Drives.

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