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Your Library Card Contract and other things you don’t think of

librarycard.jpgDid you know that your library card agreement is a legal contract? At least it’s supposed to be. That way, if you just don’t return books, there’s a legal way to get them or the money to replace them.

In my current county, for instance, if you have $27 in overdue fines (that’s not the minimum, I’ve seen lower go to collections) and don’t pay it for a few months to half a year or so, your account will be sent to a collections agency.**

That’s why children under 18 aren’t allowed to get cards without their parents. They can’t sign legally binding agreements. Therefore, if you get a card for your child, you are responsible for paying any fines and getting any books back. I had a woman saying that she wouldn’t pay her kids’ fines, that it was their fault. I told her that she could certainly demand that they come up with the money, but it would eventually have to be paid. I explained to her the eventual collections process.

This is also why you shouldn’t lend library books to people or let them borrow your card unless you’re willing to get the books back yourself and pay the fine. Because legally, you’re responsible for what’s done with your card.

And if it’s stolen, you should report it immediately. Sure they’re not likely to be going for Proust, but you’re legally responsible if the thief takes out 6 favorite DVDs (or ones that might sell well) and never brings them back.

It may seem a little over the top, making it a legal contract. But there are a few good reasons. First, while your fines may have all been from $0.50 to $5.00, money that the county can surely spare, I’ve handled fines of over $100 for combinations of lost material and plain old fines. 10 people with fines over $100 is another $1000.

Here are some other legal contracts you’ve probably signed, perhaps without thinking about it:

Video stores — most now require a credit card number. Why? Well they’re a lot more technologically advanced than most libraries (I’ve never worked in one that uses credit…probably because we don’t make much). So if you don’t return that movie, they can bill you for any movies you don’t return or any fines you have. They’re legally allowed to do it…it’s all in the fine print.

Cell phone contracts — it’s possible to get out of these in several ways, but they’re legally binding so you can’t just stop using it and stop paying. That’s why so many of us stick with sucky service. You can pay something like $150-175 to get out. Or, you can follow read the following articles by several bloggers and see if it applies to you.

Cancel Your Cell Phone Contract Without Paying Fees at Cash Money Life, I Transferred My Cell Phone Contract Yesterday and Didn’t Pay a Dime at Cash Money Life, Cancel Sprint Service Without Early Termination Fees at My Dollar Plan, and ‘My Two Cents’ on How to Avoid Cell Phone Termination Fees at Chance Favors.

What are other contracts you’ve run across that you might not think twice before signing?

** One thing that really annoys me about this is that sometimes the collections agency screws up and sends people incorrect notices for large amounts which then worries them. I’d be quite worried if I got a letter saying I was delinquent for $90 but I knew I didn’t have outstanding fines. I can tell the people that my computer shows their account as being clear, but often they’re worried the collections people won’t have that info. I pass them along to supervisors who, I hope, clear things up. The advantage is that when people do owe money, a simple letter from the collections people tends to bring them in pretty quickly.

Corollary to this is that having long overdue/lost books can screw up your credit score, depending on your county. At least we’re up front about it.

photo by montereypubliclibrary

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Do You Pay Your Kids' Library Fines?
March 23, 2008 at 8:01 pm


Patrick February 16, 2008 at 10:35 pm

Cable companies, home telephone service, Direct TV, and other home services often come with a contract specifying a minimum service time. The last time I moved I had to go through hoops to cancel my internet service without paying any fees. They wanted me to transfer my service or pay a fee. I finally convinced them not to charge me, but it took much more work than I wanted it to.

Thanks for the mention! 🙂

RacerX February 17, 2008 at 3:39 am

The One everyone forgets about is the Credit card slip. Every signature line now has a promise to pay! The new Bankruptcy laws are gonna make getting out of that tough.

Funny about Money February 17, 2008 at 11:33 am

That’s entirely true about the credit-card slips. Also, I wonder to what extent those “read conditions of service” pages of fine print you have to click-to-accept at various websites amount to enforceable contracts.

Some of those things would take five or ten minutes to read and figure out. Most people click to accept without even glancing at them. What, really, are we committing ourselves to?

CiaranFromChance February 17, 2008 at 9:11 pm

Thanks Mrs. Micah for the mention.

I was unaware that library card debits could be sent to a collection agency. I mean it makes total sense but I never thought of it like that.

FFB February 17, 2008 at 9:23 pm

I’ve gotten those library collection letters in the past. Thank goodness it was many years ago and not on my credit report. My local library now has a program where you can read away your fines. You get credit toward every hour you read in the library.

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