Saturday, December 4

Libraries stay away from crime and punishment

Auckland Library Books

As of September 1, fines are waived.
Photo: Alexia russell

We have all been there.

You’re tidying up a bit. Maybe a spring cleaning, maybe you move house. You are excavating an old box with a thick layer of dust.

Then he sees them out of the corner of his eye.

Books. A lot of books. With barcodes.

His stomach knots. You think, frantically, are these mine? Did I buy them in a thrift store, in a library?

Take a look inside. No, you borrowed them well. Five months ago.

Your memory kicks in as you flick through that classic tome Geopolitics, History and International Relations, Volume 4.

You made it to page three, as you recall, then you were distracted by, oh, something more interesting: dinner or paint drying in the living room.

The books, all 13, went into the box, along with the wig from that David Bowie costume party and the Richard Simmons workout VHS tape you bought in the mid-90s. Long forgotten.

But do you know who didn’t forget?


You do the math. Thirteen books, a dollar a day, three months late.

Your mind goes to strange and paranoid places: am I a criminal? Will they stop me at the border if I try to leave the country? Are Auckland City Libraries going to send Rocky Balboa after me?

Everybody has its history.

But fear no more, at least not if you are in Auckland.


Last year, Auckland Council Libraries issued more than 13.5 million articles and welcomed more than 8.5 million visitors to its 56 library centers.

This year it decided to completely abolish late fees. The measure went into effect on September 1.

It also canceled all outstanding debts – over $ 500,000, the largest of which was a staggering $ 319.90, although that pales in comparison to the technically owed by the inheritance of the President of the United States, George Washington.

The concept behind library fines is pretty obvious: return the items you borrowed on time or you’ll start paying.

But Louise LaHatte, director of heritage for Auckland City Libraries, says this can scare people.

Louise LaHatte, Head of Research and Heritage at the Auckland Library.

Louise lahatte
Photo: Supplied / Auckland Council

“We do a lot of research on libraries abroad and in New Zealand that have already removed the fines.

“The evidence shows that people are just as likely, and in many cases more likely, to return books when they don’t have a good setting.

“The fines create a narrative where when someone mentions the library, the first thing people think of is the fines.

“Seinfeld did quite a spectacle about library policemen.

“So what we are trying to promote with libraries is that they are a place where everyone is welcome and everyone should have access to what libraries can offer. And the fines really act as a barrier for people who can’t afford them.

“It may seem like nothing, or the price of a cup of coffee to some people, but if you’re a family that has to look at every dollar, you just can’t afford it.

“We have had families that do not allow their children to check out books because they cannot pay the fines. We’ve had people who, as soon as they get a ticket, they never go back to the library. “

A global trend

Library amnesties have been around for a long time: days or weeks, when libraries have opened their box of returns, no questions asked, no judgment.

In 2012, the Chicago Public Library entered into an amnesty, Windy City’s first in more than 20 years, which saw more than 100,000 expired items return homecollectively valued at more than $ 2 million.

Another amnesty in 2016 it was similarly successful, and in 2019, the library decided to bite the bullet and completely remove overdue fines.

Chicago wasn’t the first library to be free; in fact, several New Zealand libraries have also removed them, including Upper Hutt, Selwyn and Masterton.

On Greymouth, the penalties are replaced by a different kind of loss during the summer: reading your debt.

But the practice has spread in recent years: early 2019 in Ireland, all overdue fines in all public libraries were abolished, with the goal of doubling the library’s membership by 2024.

It’s a stark contrast to the way the winds seemed to blow not too long ago, LaHatte says.

“When people had high fines, we used to refer the debt to BayCorp (a debt collection agency).

“That made it even scarier, and probably people had lost that trusting relationship with the library and would not come back to us.”

Lost funds

By forgiving debt, Auckland City Libraries give up over half a million dollars, which is no small change for a library.

Overdue fines are also a relatively reliable revenue stream: In the financial year to June 2021, all Auckland libraries collected a total of over $ 700,000 in fines, although the amount has been on a steady downward trend from 2012 to 2019, in part due to the rise in electronic loans, which carry no penalties. At any one time, less than 10 percent of items are overdue, and dealing with fines amounts to a great deal of administrative time.

LaHatte says the change has been built into the council’s long-term plan and none of the library services will suffer as a result.

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Photo: Unsplash / Jessica Ruscello

“We will continue to send courtesy reminder notices before an item’s expiration date and after its expiration,” says LaHatte.

“Twenty-four days after the expiration date of the item, we say, ‘ok, we think you may have lost it’ and send people a notice saying they have been charged for a replacement.

“Once that charge is on the card, they can’t borrow any more, but if they return the book, all of that is erased and they can borrow again.”

Which makes sense, because books cost money and libraries can’t afford to give them away.

“We do this because we can look at our own evidence and see that we have a lot of inactive users. People who haven’t used us at all for a year or more.

“We can also see where they live in Auckland and unsurprisingly it is most likely to happen in South Auckland and West Auckland.

“We want to make sure we reach out to Auckland locals, and we especially value people who are jobless and looking for work, who don’t have access to other reading or information, and often those are the people we are losing, because they see that the The library is a place where they will owe us money if they start using us. “

Whether or not other libraries across the country will follow the lead of the libraries that have made this call is still up in the air.

But your faithful and forgetful correspondent certainly hopes they will, so that he can finally return (REDACTED) to the library shelves (REDACTED) for the first time since George W. Bush was president.

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