At Your Library – Talking Library Fines |

At Your Library – Talking Library Fines

Stephanie Ralph
Grand County Libraries
Grand County, CO Colorado

There has been some discussion recently in The Denver Post on the Denver Public Library’s decision to stop lending materials to patrons who have $5 or more in unpaid fines. The Denver Post reported that the city library was sitting on a startling $4.8 million in unpaid fines and charges for lost materials. As fines raised at the Denver Public Library go directly into the city budget, the change in policy is in part a method for boosting the city’s annual revenues and partly a way to encourage the return of materials to the library shelves.

News of the goings on in Denver may raise some questions about Grand County Library District’s procedures for handling fines and fees. Here are some questions the library district is sometimes asked on the subject.

How is the revenue from fines and fees allocated?

Truth be told, there aren’t a bunch of librarians sitting in a back room after hours lighting their cigars with the hundred dollar bills you recently paid in fines. Unlike the situation in Denver, the fines in Grand County are returned to the libraries’ operating budgets, while the money paid for lost or damaged books is used to buy replacement copies.

How much Library District money is outstanding in unpaid fines and fees?

Like the Denver Public Library, all Grand County Library District customers who have a fine of $5 or over are blocked from checking out materials, renewing materials, or placing holds on materials until the fine is paid.

At present there is $61,000 in unpaid fines. This is not a static figure as fines are constantly being paid and incurred. We receive approximately $30,000 annually in library fines and printing charges, and $4,800 in replacement fees. The rest of the sum is an accumulation of irretrievable unpaid fines; either the library patron has left the area, or we have lost contact. There is approximately an accumulation of $3,500 in irretrievable costs a year.

I hear some libraries do not charge the patrons for overdue books. Is this something our library district would consider?

We are constantly revisiting and reviewing this subject. Although there are many pros and cons to be considered for our library district, it has always made sense for us to continue with the existing system. With a relatively small collection, we aim to keep materials in circulation so that everyone gets a chance to check items out. This is particularly true of new or popular titles and DVDs. Libraries with no fines, report that materials are often checked out for unlimited amounts of time with the library staff spending a disproportionate amount of effort in trying to get them returned.

We regularly review the fines and fees structure to make sure it is in line with other library districts. Realizing that library fines can mount up easily and be a real hardship, we have in place systems for issuing warnings of overdue materials. If they choose, library customers receive an email two days before their materials go overdue. I personally find this very helpful. If you are not currently using this service, get in touch with a librarian to activate it for you. We also make several attempts to alert customers that fines are accumulating. If you have changed your personal information, let your library know so that the notice is sent to your current address or e-mail.

Bottom line, we really want the book, magazine, audio book or DVD back on our shelves as there are often others waiting to check it out. Renewing your materials before they are overdue is easily achieved online at or by a phone call to a Grand County librarian who will be happy to renew for you.

I received a notice for a lost book and then the librarian found it on the shelf. Will I still be charged overdue fines?

I’m afraid that mistakes do happen! In 2008 we circulated 244,038 items and sometimes there are errors. When this happens, the library staff is always happy to work with you to resolve the situation.

Any tips on how to avoid library fines?

There are some really clever ideas out there. Here are a few I came across that may be helpful.

• Check out only as many books as you are capable of finishing by the due date.

• Hang your library receipt on the fridge.

• Write on your calendar in big letters: LIBRARY BOOKS DUE.

• For the super organized, keep a spreadsheet with the details of the library books and their due date.

• Keep the stack of books together in the same place, a designated corner of your bookshelf or a special basket or box, the with the library receipt (bearing due date) on top of the pile.

• Go to the library on the same day every week. That way you know what day of the week everything is due.

If you need further information please ask the staff at your local branch of the Grand County Library District or call us at (970) 887- 9411. After all, as most people hate to pay library fines and they can mount up in the most spectacular way, it is important to understand how the money is used and how fines can be avoided.