Sunday, August 17, 2008

Noisy row breaks out in libraries over fines

< sigh >

Well, I suppose I should be grateful there's none of those oh-so-funny references to severe old ladies in tweed and half-moon spectacles at least.

Library fines could become a thing of the past if a group of librarians get their way. A fiery debate has been raging for the past week between librarians, with anti-fine campaigners describing the charges as punitive, old-fashioned and creating a negative impression of libraries.

That first bit is a slight exaggeration. On a small email list for librarians, which most of the year just has spam for management courses, a discussion has sprung from something I can't even remember on to the subject of fines. Less fiery, more aromatherapy candle-y, but that doesn't make a story does it?

"Libraries are facing competition from television, magazines, the internet, e-books, yet they have this archaic and mad idea of charging people money for being slightly late," said library consultant Frances Hendrix - a loud voice in the debate which has been taking place on an online forum for librarians. "It's all so negative, unprofessional and unbusinesslike; like any business, libraries need not to alienate their customers."

Well, that seems reasonable, who could disagree with that?

Librarian Loz Pycock

< David Tennant > What? < /David Tennant >

asked how libraries that want to ditch fines would go about retrieving their books from negligent readers. "We never have enough copies of Driving Theory Test manuals or the Life in the UK citizenship books on the shelves. How do we stop borrowers from keeping the books for the months up to their tests and depriving other users? I don't believe the public are all selfish but it only needs a very small percentage of bad apples to cause problems."

I am very amused to find myself quoted in the article as Alison Flood e-mailed me clearly hoping I'd be willing to lead the charge in favour of burning late-returners in a wicker bibliography. This was due to a negative response I sent to Frances. However, I'm also not a huge fan of fines, though I'd rather make libraries free at the point of access to reserve books and keep fines for people who can't organise themselves to return material on time. When I didn't play ball in her attempt to write an article that has as much of a relationship to reality as a David Batty article about transgendered people I naturally assumed I'd be deleted out of the picture.

I don't think charges in libraries are something that will ever be sorted out to everyone's satisfaction. The charges you can expect to find in libraries these days are mainly those that the original Government Acts didn't proscribe, which is why books are free but it's not free to request them (usually) or take out a DVD. Things are quietening down on this discussion forum again but expect it to flair up again wherever you find more than three librarians in a room.

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