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Library Fines: Ideas for Avoiding Them

One of the parts I like least of working at the library is telling people that they’ve got a fine. It’s normally stressful for them. The only thing I get out of it myself is learning to work the cash register better. Oh and not paying off fines might cost me my job too.

Here’s some ideas for having no or fewer library fines.

1. Weekly library visits.

If you go the same day each week, print your library list (most libraries let you get them online) the morning that you’d go and find all the due books. Attempt to renew them and if that doesn’t work pile them by the door. That way you don’t forget any books.

2. Google calendar.

If you’re not sure you’ll go every week, make reminders in Google calendar every time you bring home books or renew them. Consider making it a day or two before the due date if your schedule may not allow you to return them the same day.

Have Google calendar (or other similar sites) e-mail you the reminders.

You can either list every book or just remind yourself to check your online account.

3. Make a home for the books.

We had this as kids–a table where all the library books we weren’t reading belonged. I won’t say we always did well with it–do you know how many books you can be “reading” at the same time?–but it was really handy when we needed to prepare for library trips.

4. Old-fashioned lists.

If you don’t have internet access to your account or don’t want to use it, consider the old-fashioned method. Some libraries will print you a list of all the items you just checked out (or all the ones you have out). If they don’t, write the list yourself.

Tack/tape this list to a noticeable spot in the house. Cross out every book you return. If you renew one, write it on a new list. Consult this list/group of lists every week (or 3 days or daily) to see what’s going to be due between your upcoming trip and the next one.

Library fines aren’t so bad–they go to support a good cause and they’re often still much lower than buying the book itself (some books). But they’re also something that eats away at your budget. If you’re an avid reader, the fines can almost cripple your spending plan ($150+ the other night for a guy who lost 6 books).

Best way to fight them–get a system. Do whatever works for you, whatever makes you get them in on time.

Actually the really best way to go is to start working at a library. So far all the ones I’ve worked at have no late fines for staff.

A library fine story:

Worst library fine I ever had to collect was from an African woman who had what appeared to be cigarette burns all over a section of her face. Torture, domestic abuse, I don’t know what but something bad had happened.

She was upset because she didn’t think one book was returned late (the others were indisputable because I checked them in myself) and I as I was trying to help her, I thought “She’s been through something really awful–and here I am haggling with her about library fines.” But then I hoped that maybe the normalcy of it was good…also her other books were most definitely late and there was no getting around that.


Andrew Stevens January 15, 2008 at 2:44 am

Just to show you the other side of the aisle, my wife and I just had a horrific library experience recently. She returned four books to the library (all science fiction books and all by the same author). A couple of weeks later, she noticed that they hadn’t been checked in. She asked about this and they said they hadn’t received them. She asked them to please search which they did (taking two weeks). After the search, they hadn’t found them, so she initiated a second search (another two weeks). Again, they said they hadn’t found them. They then sent us a bill for $90.

After ensuring that my wife hadn’t created a false memory (by searching the car and the house and calling the other library she frequents to see if they weren’t there), we went to the library ourselves and searched. Ten minutes later, we found them misshelved in the “Young Adult Science Fiction” section under the author’s name. Let’s count the number of things that had to go wrong here: 1) they forgot to check the books through their computer when they came in, 2) the books were misshelved, 3) the books were not found on a search even though they were in an obvious location, and 4) the books were not found on a second search even though they were in an obvious location.

It is fortunate that I have spent all my life controlling my temper. The fact that the people who work at this particular library are also fantastically rude (and not just on this occasion) didn’t help much.

Obviously, most libraries are not nearly so incompetent in their processes and this is the first time I can recall having such an egregious problem in many years of library visitation.

KMC January 15, 2008 at 6:04 am

To our family, library fines are just a cost of doing business. In fact, my wife and I both have the same opinion on this – we cheerfully pay library fines because we know the money is going to help operate a community service we actually use (a lot!).

Andrew January 15, 2008 at 7:09 am

My library system has email reminders. It sends me an email three days in advance, warning me that the book will be due. It also provides a link for me to renew the books!

To me, the library is tax money well spent!

CatherineL January 15, 2008 at 9:31 am

Well Mrs M – there’s no way you’re ever going to let anyone off with not paying the fine is there?

My library fines got so bad that I had to stop using the library. It’s in the city centre and I just rarely feel inspired to go to the city.

mrsmicah January 15, 2008 at 10:25 am

@Andrew Stevens,

As a “civilian” at some libraries I’ve actually had to bring librarians out to the stacks to get the books. Normally because I want my problem solved right away. It’s surprisingly easy for books to not check in right. I’d say about 10% of the time the machine doesn’t like the barcodes the first time. Which is why I watch the screen, but some people don’t.

If you have recurring bad experiences with a library, you can ask them to check in your books and give you a receipt for them.

Millionaire Money Habits January 15, 2008 at 11:59 am

Great tips, however, no offense to those people who are perpetually late, but I don’t have much tolerance for people not holding their end of the agreement. It’s your responsibility to return the item within the agreed time. Just as it is your responsibility to pay your bills on time.

Obviously there are exceptions, but I’m just referring to the people who disregard return dates, etc. The fine is in place to hold people accountable, so it’s necessary.

Maybe I woke up on the wrong side of the bed today.

JvW January 15, 2008 at 2:21 pm

I am notorious for returning books late. In fact, I have 3 books in my house, 2 of which I have finished that are late. I’ve already renewed them once.

I just need to go to the library more often. I would never complain about the fines, though, since it’s my fault for being late. If I lost a book, it sure would suck, but then I’d have to pay for it. That’s the deal.

Paul S January 15, 2008 at 3:50 pm


It’s a free service that tracks the items you have out, when they’re due, when they’re overdue and when your holds are available. It’s all automatic, just input your library card number and PIN and you’ll get email messages and/or text messages on your cell phone when items are about to be due.

Even though our library sends out email notices when items are due, it’s nice to have a second method to remind me.

Kiran January 15, 2008 at 7:50 pm

As I’ve said before to Mrs. Micah I was a page in high school for a year. Its pretty easy for a book to not get checked in.

When I was a civilian there were at least half a dozen times that my book ended up shelved in the wrong section and wasn’t checked in, so it wasn’t an obvious find.

I kept the ‘staff’ library card for about a year after I quit, just so I could avoid library fines.

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