Debt collectors chase amounts still owing

HANNAH FLEMING
Last updated 05:00 23/01/2013
Lisa Mansfield
CAMERON BURNELL/Fairfax NZ
FINE TIME: Puke Ariki Library customer services officer, Lisa Mansfield, 22, juggles overdue books that have recently been returned to the library.

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Tardy library book borrowers have been referred to debt collectors and had their memberships blocked for not returning books or paying overdue fines.

More than 170 people have been barred from New Plymouth's Puke Ariki Library or had their debts passed on to collection agencies in the past two years.

While Puke Ariki's historical records contained only basic data, service delivery manager Dale Cousens said there was about $26,000 owed in overdue fines dating back to January 2011.

"For the most part our members are very good at getting items back to us on time," she said.

"There are currently 39,574 items on loan and of those about 6 per cent, or just under 2400, are overdue."

The largest amount that could be found owing by a single person since January 2011 was $208.

Ms Cousens said fines older than six months were handed over to the debt collection agency.

"We send three notices to say the items are due back and if we don't hear from you in any way shape or form - and if the amount is over $50 - then we contact the debt collectors.

"We're a bit discretionary on that though, we look at what is involved."

She said if the overdue books were substantial non-fiction items, they would be referred to the debt collector; a bunch of junior paperbacks may not.

"We do refer the larger and more serious cases to the debt collectors.

"We also then get to the point where we make a judgment call on the fact that we will probably never see this person again."

One of the library's most overdue books was one on pregnancy advice, Bonding With Your Bump by Miriam Stoppard, which was due back in January 2011.

Ms Cousens said the most popular books were also those that were habitually overdue and included fiction, children's paperbacks, and art and lifestyle books.

Some of the library's most popular titles included fiction by Alexander McCall Smith, James Patterson and Lee Child, while Simon Holst's 100 Great Ways to Use Slow Cookers was a crowd favourite, surprisingly.

Australian Andy Griffiths' The Day My Bum Went Psycho was the most popular junior book.

"One of the reasons that we make every effort to get things back quickly is that we have 2586 members with their names in a request queue for an item that is currently out," she said.

Ms Cousens said the odd fine was waived in special circumstances.

"We got a postcard from Turkey addressed to the staff with a genuine Turkish stamp and it was all very lovely and the kind of thing you would get from friends."

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She said none of the staff, or anyone they knew, were on holiday and it wasn't until they saw a string of numbers on the bottom when they clicked.

"We looked that number up on our system and it was actually a Tour Guide to Turkey that was overdue, so the person had sent us a postcard pretending they were the book.

"We renewed the item and waived the fine because we thought if you go to that much effort to let us know it's going to be late, then that's worth points."

The book was eventually returned.

- Taranaki Daily News

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