The Critical Mass

When library fines go wild

This morning’s mail brought a surprise, a letter from a collection agency. The aggrieved party that it was representing: The Rochester Public Library. The lawyers claimed that I owed my favorite public institution $57.80 in fines.

WHAT?

Had I forgotten to return the Gutenberg Bible? I looked at my account on the library web site. I currently have nothing checked out. I called the library.  I was informed that I had been 10 days late in returning 10 CDs and two books. Quite possible. I was on vacation at the time, forgot about them, returned from the trip and dropped them off. But… $57.80?

It was explained to me that the library’s fines are clearly spelled out. Overdue items are, I believe she said, 30 cents a day.

“But don’t you think $57.80 is a little outrageous for a library fine?

“There’s a $20 fee for the collection agency.”

“But don’t you think you should have sent me a notice that my library fine would be submitted to a collection agency?”

“You would have been notified by e-mail,” she said, apparently looking up my file on her computer. “Oh… we don’t have your e-mail on file.”

Yes, my library card is at least 20 years old. And no one’s ever asked me for my e-mail.

“There are notifications at the check-out desk that accumulated fines of over a certain amount will be turned over to a collection agency,” she said.

OK, so now I know what’s on those little pieces of paper, taped to the counter, that I never read.

“We have your phone number,” she says. “They might have called you, advising you of the overdue materials.”

“Might?” I sense a crack in their argument.

She asks if I want to talk to a supervisor. “Sure.”

We have the same conversation. Apparently, the supervisor doesn’t think $57.80 is an overly outrageous fine. But I’m making some headway with the notion that I should have been notified that I’d be turned over to a collection agency. She offers a compromise. Pay half the fine and we’ll call it settled. I agree. It’s actually a pretty good deal for me, less than the initial fine itself. I should have kept The Group of Seven and Tom Thomson for another couple of says.

And, a bonus. “This won’t appear on your credit report,” she said.

What a country. My library fine won’t wreck my chances of buying that new 23-cubic foot stainless steel French door refrigerator from Sears.

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