It’s safe to go back to the Library, fine forgiveness

johnboy 29 June 2012 27

Chief Minister Gallagher has announced a jubilee (in the oldest sense of the word) by clearing the debts of guilty library users.

“Our experience has shown that fines are a major reason why people stop using the library. We want to see more people back in our libraries, where they have access to a wide range of learning resources and opportunities for both adults and children,” the Chief Minister said.

“From 1 July 2012, all outstanding fines for Libraries ACT members will be removed. People with unreturned books are encouraged to bring them back to their library.

“A new penalty system will be put in place, replacing the old fines system for those who don’t do the right thing and bring their items back in the future.

And the new system? No more fines, just administrative fees! (Followed by restricted borrowing rights and cutting off the library internet)

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27 Responses to It’s safe to go back to the Library, fine forgiveness
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dtc dtc 9:36 am 02 Jul 12

soundandfury said :

I’m happy enough with these changes as I generally have my books back on time or renew if I’m not finished.

@#23 Sticking your head in the sand isn’t ever the answer. Jaydun’s mum has three and a half weeks, without penalty, beyond the due date to look for the lost book. If she can’t find it, she’ll have to pay the cost of the book- that was inevitable. As I understand it, the $25 administrative fee only kicks in after four weeks. If Jaydun’s mum does the right thing and shows up on late day 27, she should only have to pay $10.

Perhaps Jaydun’s mum has borrowed books for her children who have, in the inevitable way of children, misplaced them for a few weeks. Just because you are OCD and dont have to deal with problem relatives.

My complaint is that if you are one day late with one book you are banned from using any library facilities. With my kids reading 10 books a week and me borrowing a few as well, I am often one book overdue. Imagine going to the library with the kids, spending 30 minutes carefully selecting books for them, going to check out and then discovering you have one over due book. Or a pensioner rocking up to do their weekly emails and being banned from using the computer. Sounds like a good way for librarians to learn some new swear words

Woody Mann-Caruso Woody Mann-Caruso 9:30 pm 01 Jul 12

Sticking your head in the sand isn’t ever the answer.

And yet people do it anyway. Smart public policy makers understand this. Dumb ones say ‘Fines create incentives, and I’m sure they only create incentives I want, not perverse incentives to do exactly the opposite. I could ask some economists and psychologists to help me design a better answer, but that’s too hard. More fines! More fees!’

If there aren’t penalties, there’s absolutely no incentive to return things to the library.

There are penalties now. Are they working? Apparently not – they’re busted enough that we need to (a) have regular amnesties (guess what these create an incentive to do?) and (b) change the rules. Are the new rules likely to be better? Is a multi-tiered penalty structure plus arbitrary admin fees really going to encourage people to do the right thing, and allow libraries to do what they were set up to do?

soundandfury soundandfury 1:25 pm 01 Jul 12

I’m happy enough with these changes as I generally have my books back on time or renew if I’m not finished.

@#23 Sticking your head in the sand isn’t ever the answer. Jaydun’s mum has three and a half weeks, without penalty, beyond the due date to look for the lost book. If she can’t find it, she’ll have to pay the cost of the book- that was inevitable. As I understand it, the $25 administrative fee only kicks in after four weeks. If Jaydun’s mum does the right thing and shows up on late day 27, she should only have to pay $10. Paying for lost/damaged items was a condition she agreed to when she became a member. If there aren’t penalties, there’s absolutely no incentive to return things to the library. The idea of a library is that the things in it are a shared resource for everyone. You get your time with a book and when your time is up, someone else should get a crack at it.

Think of it this way. If you rent a movie from Blockbuster every night of the week, that’s about $20. If you borrow one from the library and return it on time each time, it’s free. Even if you lose one DVD a year, you’re getting much better value from the library.

@#24 Why would you have a book out for 84 days late? That’s 112 days in total. The library allows you to renew your books if you need more time. You can even do it online. The only catch is that if someone else wants the book, you can’t keep it. That seems fair enough to me, as there are only so many books to go around.

Elizabethany Elizabethany 11:24 am 01 Jul 12

soundandfury said :

@threepaws – phone/calendar reminders are great and you can also check your account online. Only kids under 2 don’t get fines.

According to the new policy os on the ACT libraries webpage, “This process does not apply for Home Library Service users.” (http://www.library.act.gov.au/__data/assets/rtf_file/0008/195731/ACT_Public_Library_Loans_Policy.rtf).

Kids under 2 don’t get fine. Nor does anyone else. But they are both liable for an admin fee of $200 if a book 84 days late.

Woody Mann-Caruso Woody Mann-Caruso 9:33 am 01 Jul 12

What is the problem here? When you sign up to use the library you agree to return the things you borrow in a timely manner. You also agree to pay for lost or damaged items.

The problem here is that the arrangements fail Public Policy 101. Citizens are rational actors who sometimes make flawed decisions – say, not returning a book on time. Good policy focuses on the creation and maintenance of public value by creating aligned incentives for citizens – say, getting people to return the books as quickly as possible *and* avoid punishment. Bad policy puts barriers between citizens and doing the right thing, or worse, gives incentives to do the wrong thing – say, by telling people that when they turn up with that book, they have to pay a massive fine, which either:

– encourages people to stick their head in the sand and pretend it’s not happening – avoidance behaviour
– allows those who can afford it to justify their poor behaviour (sure, it’s late, but I paid for the privilege, so there’s no problem – see the classic Israeli child care centre case)
– encourages smart people to let it all to pile up on the library end and wait for the inevitable amnesty.

The whole time, books aren’t there to borrow, and people aren’t using the library – particularly the poor, who can’t afford to buy books. The library is now in the business of collecting fines, not encouraging reading.

It’s OK for fantastically wealthy people like me – I just go elsewhere, like Amazon. Not so cool for the single mum who’s had little Jaydun lose a $10 book, wants to make it right, but is terrified she’s facing a week’s rent in administrative charges alone.

soundandfury soundandfury 10:36 pm 30 Jun 12

What is the problem here? When you sign up to use the library you agree to return the things you borrow in a timely manner. You also agree to pay for lost or damaged items.

If you return your books on time, you don’t have anything to worry about. If you forget (for 2 whole weeks), they remind you and give you 2 more weeks to find it. That seems pretty generous. If you can’t find it, you owe the library the cost of the book- that doesn’t change. The responsibility is on you to go and declare the item lost BEFORE they trigger the administrative fee. (It’s also your responsibility to keep your details up to date.)

Why are they doing this? Since the territory budget has been released and we’re slowly working our way back to surplus, funds will be drying up to purchase new materials for the libraries. This plan incentivises returning borrowed books- the whole idea of libraries in the first place. It doesn’t affect the majority of library users who aren’t out to try to game the system- in fact, it seems to give people a buffer of 2 weeks to finish those reeeally long books!

@threepaws – phone/calendar reminders are great and you can also check your account online. Only kids under 2 don’t get fines.

@Nightshade – there already is a system for email reminders a couple of days before books are due.

poetix poetix 8:59 pm 30 Jun 12

Woody Mann-Caruso said :

*slow clap*

I just put $200 on my Amazon account. It’s like insurance against a once-a-year fine, except I get the books I want, when I want them, forever, and you librarians get to start polishing your resume for an APS2 call centre role at Centrelink.

The problem is, of course, that libraries are equally for those who don’t have $200, but who also like books. The more I think about this, the less it seems to be in line with the notion of free access to the collection. Some people live on less than that a week, and a fine of $200 would be a huge problem. If the lost book is replaced, this is just a punishment, and a very dubious piece of social policy.

‘Let them eat cake. Or read The Chronicle. It’s free!’

@8, I hope you are right about fines not being put on children’s cards, but it doesn’t say that on the table of fines, sorry, administration fees.

Snarky Snarky 5:41 pm 30 Jun 12

Skidbladnir said :

If you think our library system is undeniably great, try the Brisbane library service.
You’ll suddenly realise what you’re missing in the way of services and service quality

(and as of July 1, they don’t gouge as hard as the ACT)

What I want from a library is a comprehensive collection, an easy to search catalogue, easy reservation and collection and a pleasant reading environment with friendly and knowledgeable staff to assist and guide. The ACT system provides all this to me, with the bonus of email notifications when items are ready for collection and reminders when they’re due. If I were to make any changes at all I might tweak the hours so they’re open a little later in the evenings, but acknowledge that this would be solely for my benefit.

So what does Brisbane do that beats this system so comprehensively that by comparison we have “a terrible library system suffering from terrible customer service and underutilisation, made worse by the shitty user engagement of the existing administration”?

Woody Mann-Caruso Woody Mann-Caruso 4:46 pm 30 Jun 12

*slow clap*

I just put $200 on my Amazon account. It’s like insurance against a once-a-year fine, except I get the books I want, when I want them, forever, and you librarians get to start polishing your resume for an APS2 call centre role at Centrelink.

Nightshade Nightshade 3:33 pm 30 Jun 12

Assuming you haven’t lost the book, the new system will give you 14 days in between reminding you that the book is overdue and charging you for it. 14 days in which to return the book without financial penalty is an improvement on the current system, where they only remind you after you’ve racked up 14 days worth of fines.

Back in the old days, it was easy to remember when your books were due because the date was stamped inside the cover. Now we just get a paper receipt, and I’m rarely organised enough to not lose it and to remember when 3 weeks is up. I get fines quite often, and the new system will work well for me because I’ll get a reminder and take them back.

These changes seem to be about getting the books back in a reasonable time, and only penalising people who don’t return them after one or more reminders. Since the penalties are then high, that is presumably to provide incentive to return them earlier (or inform the library if you’ve lost them). 28 days grace is not too bad. If the library would really like them back by the due date, I have to say that an automated email system that reminded you a couple of days *beforehand*, rather than 14 days after, would be great. It would certainly help to get *my* books back on time.

Skidbladnir Skidbladnir 2:43 pm 30 Jun 12

If you think our library system is undeniably great, try the Brisbane library service.
You’ll suddenly realise what you’re missing in the way of services and service quality

(and as of July 1, they don’t gouge as hard as the ACT)

Stevian Stevian 2:30 pm 30 Jun 12

Skidbladnir said :

We already have a terrible library system suffering from terrible customer service and underutilisation, made worse by the shitty user engagement of the existing administration, and this proposal does nothing to resolve any of the existing problems.

How exactly does the “ACT Libraries: We’re deadly serious about inventory tracking and increasingly nasty about debt, but offer nothing new in exchange.” message encourage public library usage?

(I ask because those most likely to need a _publicly funded_ library are those worst affected by any cost increase, least able to access books at the going market rate, but are either already targeted by or most likely to benefit from literacy promotion programs… Isn’t this counter-productive social policy?)

No-one is forcing you to use the system. Return books on time and you have no problem so quit whining

Stevian Stevian 2:28 pm 30 Jun 12

DrKoresh said :

Damn, I’d go to court rather than pay multiple $200 fees, that’s ludicrous.

Cheapskate!

Snarky Snarky 2:23 pm 30 Jun 12

And more on topic, while the $200 is absurd as an “administrative fee” (weren’t banks recently forbidden for charging similar outrageous admin fees for overdue credit card amounts? Would this library fee even hold up if someone took it to court?) it might be worth noting that to cop the “fee” the item has to be overdue for 2 1/2 months AND you need to ignore a 14 day warning email AND you need to ignore a 28 day invoice to replace the lost item. It’s not exactly a rush to the blunderbuss is it?

Snarky Snarky 2:17 pm 30 Jun 12

Skidbladnir said :

We already have a terrible library system suffering from terrible customer service and underutilisation, made worse by the shitty user engagement of the existing administration, and this proposal does nothing to resolve any of the existing problems…

Geez, which branch are you using? My experience at Woden is and has always been exactly the opposite of this barrage of negativity. I stopped reading the rest of your comment given the utter hollowness of this first para.

Skidbladnir Skidbladnir 1:38 pm 30 Jun 12

We already have a terrible library system suffering from terrible customer service and underutilisation, made worse by the shitty user engagement of the existing administration, and this proposal does nothing to resolve any of the existing problems.

How exactly does the “ACT Libraries: We’re deadly serious about inventory tracking and increasingly nasty about debt, but offer nothing new in exchange.” message encourage public library usage?

(I ask because those most likely to need a _publicly funded_ library are those worst affected by any cost increase, least able to access books at the going market rate, but are either already targeted by or most likely to benefit from literacy promotion programs… Isn’t this counter-productive social policy?)

Duffbowl Duffbowl 12:47 pm 30 Jun 12

damien haas said :

I also think they will have difficulty setting debt collectors on children. No contract with a person under the age of 18 is binding.

This is true, which is why most places, including community sports teams, require a parent or guardian to sign, essentially as a sponsor or guarantor.

Would a debt collector go after a child? Probably not. Would a debt collector go after a figure below $200? Yep, there are a couple in Canberra that will.

ChrisinTurner ChrisinTurner 10:44 am 30 Jun 12

I don’t think changing the name from “fine” to “administrative fee” and raising the amount to $200 is what the Chief Minister had in her mind, surely?

damien haas damien haas 12:31 am 30 Jun 12

I dont recall this $200 fine being in the agreement i signed when becoming an ACT Library user.

I also think they will have difficulty setting debt collectors on children. No contract with a person under the age of 18 is binding.

What a ludicrous change in policy.

If the aim is to attract users back to the library, i think this may actually go against them. If the real aim is to turn overdue books into a profit making stream, then just be honest about it.

Then again, this is an ACT Govt decision, what they mean and what they say are often at odds.

threepaws threepaws 12:22 am 30 Jun 12

Now that baby threepaws is of an age where she can enjoy some of the activities on offer at our local library, I have become a frequent visitor for the first time in more than a decade.

I was so impressed by the range, the self service technology, and the extremely helpful staff, I felt compelled to provide complimentary feedback to the ACT government. That was a first for me. I almost wrote a post on RA about how impressed I was.

I borrowed a couple of books for myself on baby threepaws’ card because I was actually a little scared to check whether I was blacklisted or not – it’s been so long I honestly can’t remember if I have a ‘stolen’ book lurking somewhere in my collection.

For someone in my situation, the wiping of fines will be welcome, because now that I have ‘rediscovered’ the library I know I will be making more of an effort to borrow, not purchase, those books I’m not sure I actually want to read. Books have now become a bit of a luxury item for me (not for baby threepaws, my Book Depository account can attest to that!) so I am ready to embrace the library again.

I have very fond memories of visiting the library as a child. The day the mobile library came to my (newly established) primary school each week was even more exciting than a lunch order. I hope that in this age of technology (jeez – how old am I?) my little one can still experience the same excitement browsing of the smorgasboard of books that is the Library.

Hopefully the new system will encourage people to return to the library, but wow – those new fines or ‘administration fees’ are huge. Thankfully this age of technology that rejects paper also allows me to put a calendar note on my phone to remind me when books are due.

@poetix – my understanding is that there are no fines for items borrowed on a child’s card?

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