Book thieves target Oprah at Hamilton Library

HARRY PEARL
Last updated 10:11 07/01/2014

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Hamilton library-goers racked up tens of thousands of dollars in unpaid fees last year with debtors abusing staff when informed of their bills.

It also appears Hamilton has a soft-spot for America's favourite talk show host, with copies of Oprah's magazine among the items most frequently not returned to shelves.

Hamilton residents using the city's five suburban libraries and the central city library owed more than $120,000 in outstanding fees for overdue, lost or damaged items at the end of the 2012/13 financial year.

Overdue fees, the biggest outstanding amount, totalled $77,500, while charges for lost or damaged items was close to $44,000.

Borrowers who do not pay debts of more than $50 after eight weeks are referred to debt collection agency BayCorp.

In June last year, the agency was chasing more than $72,000.

Su Scott, libraries director at Hamilton City Council, said large outstanding debts were common at libraries throughout the country, and when measured against the number of items that were lent to users, the figures were not particularly significant.

"We deal with approximately 2 million books per annum, and 1 million visitors, so when you look at it in that scale, then the number of lost or damaged books is a small matter."

She said most people did not want to pay fines, but the vast majority accepted there was a charge to pay when books were not returned within 28 days.

However, the charges have irked some borrowers, who have abused library staff when informed of their bill.

"At 50 cents per day per book, if someone was to borrow 20 books and have them out for two or three weeks beyond the overdue period then the amount is quite large," she said.

"People often get a shock and at that point they can become abusive."

The figures, released to the Waikato Times under the Official Information Act, also reveal the items that have gone missing from shelves most often.

Careless or crazed fans of Krash - touted as "the world's coolest boys' mag" - and O, The Oprah Magazine were lost or stolen; nine and seven issues respectively in 2012/13.

Four copies of children's magazine Disney Adventures also went missing.

Although the figures point towards some quick fingered kids and Oprah fans in the city, Ms Scott labelled the results as "spurious", being weighted towards disappearing magazines.

"We have multiple copies of the one title of a magazine. For example we might have 500 copies of a magazine . . . we would not have, for example, 500 copies of a book."

Ms Scott said fees were there to encourage people to return their books.

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"We need our books back so other people can borrow them. The encouragement is to return the material so we can share it around as equitably as possible."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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