Benbrook Library / Musings

Lost & Fined: A Success Story


The library business is a fine business. I don’t mean fine like this guy (I believe that would be better expressed as “foine”), or like a steak cooked to perfection with clean-burning propane; I’m talking samolians. Kablingy. Chedda. Money.

I’m not remotely saying that we exist solely to bleed the public dry 10 cents at a time on overdue items, nor that collecting money on overdues and lost items is anywhere close to being an essential part of how we fund ourselves, because it’s definitely not. I simply mean that dealing with fines and fees is an unpleasant-if-necessary aspect of library life for both patrons and staff members. On our side, we don’t want to charge you, but when you lend stuff for free, you have to have some measures in place to motivate its return. We don’t have a squadron of library cops at our disposal, so we figure teensy fines are the best way to go. On the patron side of things, the degree of unpleasantness associated with the fine process varies wildly from person to person. Some people would rather insist that their library card was stolen by aliens or that they’re being framed by the one-armed man than willingly pay a modest fine on their account. “I’ve never seen that book before in my life, I tells ya,” they’ll say.* These situations are no fun for anyone involved.

The good news is, most people own up to their library transgressions and make the unhappy business of dealing with fines a silky smooth process. A shining example of this occurred earlier this week, when a patron returned several DVDs in our outside book drop. Attached to her returned items was an envelope containing $20, with a note explaining the cash was for a DVD she checked out but lost. Depositing cash in the book drop is not how we typically handle payments for lost items, but because this person immediately copped to losing the DVD, took the initiative to pay the replacement cost right away, and paid such a generous amount, she’s a library all-star in my book. The DVD she lost was a six-year-old, not-so-popular Kevin Costner movie, and I can get a replacement copy for all of $5, so we charged her exactly that (we don’t charge processing fees on lost items) and issued a $15 credit on her account.

Usually, when I’m called in to assist with a lost item situation, it involves resistance and/or headache-inducing complications, so it was highly refreshing to be involved in one that went the complete opposite way. Three cheers for you, Book Drop Bucks Bringer. You’re a mighty fine library user.


*OK, they don’t say the “I tells ya” part, but it makes it amusing, and therefore less frustrating, if I imagine them saying it. Also, full disclosure: There are sometimes situations in which mistakes are made on our end and people are wrongfully charged, but they are decidedly the exception, not the rule.

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