Library book borrower racks up $800 fine

Many people rack up library fines occasionally - they misplace a book, forget when it is due or simply don't finish it in time - but few find themselves facing an $800 bill.

That is the largest outstanding fine owed by an individual borrower at Invercargill City Libraries and is still unpaid.

Invercargill City Libraries manager Marianne Foster said most library cardholders were good at returning items on time, although yesterday there was a total of $60,000 of fines owed to the library, by about 3000 users.

The longest outstanding fine was registered in 1999, and was now overdue by 13 years, she said.

Books incur a 20 cent fine every day they are overdue, until they reach the maximum $5 per item limit. After that, the library declares the book lost and the borrower must pay for a replacement copy.

Other items, such as CDs and DVDS, follow the same system but collect a 50 cent fine per day.

The $800 bill was probably made up of replacement value fines, rather than multiple overdue fees, she said.

Modern technology meant users could now check their balance by logging on to the library website with their card number, and a pre-alert system warned borrowers via email three days before their books were due to be returned.

If that failed, there was a simple system in place to motivate users to pay, Foster said.

"If you have fines over $10 then you are not able to borrow anything from the library."

She believed about 5 per cent of library cardholders owed fines bigger than $10. Debt collectors were sometimes asked to chase up extreme bills but library staff first tried to use other options to avoid this, she said.

"We prefer to work with people rather than beat them over the head. We don't want to stop people using the library. If anything, we want them to use the library more"

Foster had heard of a few people using library cards under different names to cheat the system, although she did not think this was widespread.

Although it was preferable for all items to be returned and paid for, the library was realistic about recouping fines and a practical number of unpaid accounts were factored into the library's budget so they were not too financially draining on the service, she said.

As of Monday, the library had 3000 overdue books.

The Southland Times