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

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

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