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After Labor Day, Full Enforcement

August 3, 2009

You don’t have to, of course, but beginning today, you may check out more items than in the past. We have officially increased the check-out limits.

I say “officially” because for various reasons we have been over-riding the limits, and it’s nice to have policies that match what we do.

It is unfair for library staff to have too many unwritten policies and shades of gray to negotiate. Our busier circumstances require clarity.

We will also change our fine policy, but first, the check-out limits:

For many years, the limits have been 12 items for an adult card and 4 items for a child’s. Then we added a middle card for older children, with a limit of 8.

As of today, the limits will be 20, 10, and 5. (Children with the youngest card seem to think the limit is 5, anyway, perhaps because it’s one hand’s worth.)

Why not do it? Some people think 12 is enough for anyone. What if someone checks out everything on a topic or by an author? (We can put things on hold for you so they can’t be renewed, and we can buy more of things in demand.)

Our statistics have a long run with the same limits in place (except when we’ve waived them). Will our annual comparisons suffer? In a way, it doesn’t matter. Circulation has climbed for many years, and that’s part of the point of being here.

People might accumulate uncomfortably large fines if the limit is too high. Of course, we can only do so much to protect people from themselves, but we have perhaps the lowest fine schedule in the state, matched by only a few libraries.

Why do it?

People check out more and different kinds of library items these days: books, magazines, books on tape, books on CD, videos on tape, videos on DVDs, music on CDs, computer CDs.

People have different habits. Some read one or two books at a time, then exchange them.

Others surround themselves with information on different topics. We encourage exploration, which takes freedom.

Others visit every week, or two weeks, or three. They check out enough to cover that period without running out. In our district, half our users live within a couple miles of the library. But then, half don’t.

We are primarily a circulating library. Many parents check out lots of books for their children under five years old, which is the age at which they can first get a card. We want parents to do this; it is a critical time of life for learning.

Our check-out period is an adequate, possibly generous, three weeks. Our fines are a nickel a day (a quarter for new books and interlibrary loans). It almost looks as if we want people to use the library freely, to integrate it into their lives.

Now that we have raised the limits, we will stick to them. The new limits should accommodate almost every patron we can think of, so there should be few awkward moments in which to say, “Sorry but …”

However, there will be a few awkward moments about fines. We will spend the month of August reminding people of the new enforcement of an old policy: If you owe the library more than $5.00, you may not check out until you settle up.

After Labor Day, full enforcement.

We have tens of thousands of dollars in unpaid fines and fees. Some of it is uncollectible because those people are gone. However, many library users have grown accustomed to their large fine debt to the point of ignoring it.

In which case, fines no longer serve their purpose of helping us pay attention to our responsibilities in sharing a library with others. And we all want to do that.

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