ASSOCIATES (vol. 9, no. 2, November 2002) -

*My View from the Back Room*


Carol Borzyskowski
Winona Public Library Associate II
Winona, MN

That's "FINE" with me.

Now for the rest of the story....

We have been without a Library Director since June. Our current Director was put on Administrative Leave, and then resigned. The search is on for a replacement, and meanwhile we are all doing little extra things to keep the library running smoothly. We are really lucky in that we have a great supervisor who is filling in. She is the type of person everyone respects and no one dislikes. A real rarity in today's working world. However, she does not have an MLS, so no chance to actually "get" the job. She will--no doubt--get to help the new Library Director get settled. Whenever that happens.

I went and offered my services to our supervisor. I said I knew she was taking on a lot of new problems, and if there were anything I could do to make her job easier, I would do it. The bad news is, I am now the "fine" lady. All the returned books that look "damaged" end up on my desk. I get to page through them and decide whether to withdraw the book and fine the patron, or not. I also picked up the extremely important position of pinning notices up on the community bulletin board. (I can't explain it either, but I did say I wanted to help lighten her load.) So, library workers, be careful what you ask for!!

Fines are just not a popularity maker. It has only been about three years that we have been charging and collecting overdue fines. Our computer system-DRA software (which is going away and we all have to migrate to a completely new system, but that will be another column!) makes attaching and collecting fines very easy. So the entire staff, except the director, wanted to charge fines. We checked with all the other libraries in our system and got an average of what they charged and kept bringing it up at staff meetings until we finally got the necessary approval.

Then we spent 3 months telling people that fines were going to go into effect. We stressed the fact that IT WON'T COST YOU ANYTHING IF YOU BRING EVERYTHING BACK ON TIME. We put up signs, put it in the paper, on the radio, and on the web site. We also verbally told everyone who checked out anything. When fines went into effect most people were fine and paid right up, but there were the hard core ones who swore they didn't know, had never been told about it, hadn't read or heard anything about it so they shouldn't have to pay. PLUS, they checked out those items before the fine policy went into place.

Overall we have very few people dispute overdue fines. Oh, they may crab about it, or sometimes laugh and say, "Oh, I just forgot." And smile at you like that is a valid reason to waive the fine. My favorite overdue fine excuse, by far, is, "Well, we take out so many books, I don't think you should expect us to keep track of them all. I think we should get special service because of the quantity we borrow." So, if I were to waive fines in a situation like that, wouldn't that be like enabling a dysfunctional person? Here was a customer, not disputing the books were late, or the fact we charge for late books, but thinking it simply shouldn't apply to them because they couldn't bother to bring them back on time. Sorry.

Fines charged for damaged materials are the ones that are the least popular for the customer. The NUMBER ONE most used excuse is very simple and hard to reach a happy solution on: I DIDN'T DO IT! Or, its close cousin, IT WAS LIKE THAT WHEN I GOT IT! We do scan and flip through all materials when we get them back and before we discharge them. No, it isn't 100%, but if it were bad enough to have to withdraw the book, we would have noticed it. You know the book, right, swollen with mildew and black stains? It sort of rocks on the counter and THAT would not have been noticed? Sorry again. So the first 3 books I withdrew and assessed fines on were disasters. All three books were wet when they came back. When they dried they were not that bad, but one was brand new, and the other two were bestsellers. So, I withdrew them, and charged the customer.

Bad news for the staff at the Circulation desk: None of the three patrons had done the damage (imagine that!). One said she had seen worse than that on other books so why was she charged a fine, one worked in a book store and respected books too much to ever do that, and one was a young mother and she cried. Just stood there and cried and said she didn't do it. I got called out there each time to deal with the unhappy patron. I tried to explain that I hated to withdraw the book and fine anyone, but the library and the city were out the use of the book and it had to be replaced. They all did pay but it was ugly. Plus I got the feeling from higher up that I was being too tough and should think about public relations. Boy, you just gotta love that! So now I do a lot of stamping DAMAGE NOTED or add a fine charge for damage and keep the book.

To further grind salt in a painful place, I spilled my lunch on some books I was bringing back to the library. My handy dandy plastic container was NOT equipped with an airtight seal. I wiped up everything and they really looked okay. I tried to be objective and determine if I would charge a patron, and decided I would not. But one book was from another library. SO I wrote them a nice note, said I was sorry, told them what had happened, how I cleaned it and it seemed fine, but to let me know.

WELL, they charged me full price on the book. When I got it back I passed it around to everyone on staff and asked if they could find the damages. No one could. Anyway, I keep that book at my desk and I am going to show it to the next patron who disputes a damaged book fine!

Now I am just hoping that the bubble gum stuck in the book I am reading will peel off when I pull it out of the freezer.

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