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How do You Handle Your Kids’ Library Fines?

librarykidfabio.jpgI handle a lot of library fines at work. One of the biggest causes of fines (or so the parents tell me) is a child misplacing a book and not being able to find it before it was due.

Some kids pull out their little coin purses and pay the fine out of their own money. Other times, parents pay the fine and tell the child to be more careful next time. Sometimes there are arguments. The older they get, the more likely they are to argue.

One mother roundly told me that she can’t control her kids and there was no way she’d pay the fine. I responded that she had the choice not to pay the fine, but that she’d agreed to do pay it when she signed them up for cards, so the account might get sent to collections.

I’m trying to remember what my parents did. We had a very small spending allowance when we were little, which wouldn’t have been enough to cover most fines. I know they took all kinds of special care so that we had pretty few late books.

When a kid is very young it’s hard to punish her for an accident. As she gets older there is more sense in making her pay her own fines—depending on how seriously she takes keeping track of books.

My thoughts: For the occasional slipup in a great track record, I might pay the late fine. I’d also pay for something on her account that wasn’t her fault—my book, her brother’s sudden illness that kept us from going to the library, etc. If it started to become a problem, I might make her pay any late fines and see if that made responsibility seem more important.

Are library fines a problem in your household? Do you make your kids pay them or pay them yourself?

photo by .Fabio


rocketc March 23, 2008 at 8:05 pm

It definitely depends on if the kid has the opportunity to get to the library on time.

Dana March 23, 2008 at 10:00 pm

At three, my daughter is a bit too young for a library card. If I get anything for her (she has lots of books at home), I put it on my own card. And yes, I wind up with fines occasionally. However, that comes from procrastination and getting sidetracked and neglecting to check my account online. We have an awesome library here with an awesome computer system and not only can I check the due dates of my materials on it, I can pay my fines from home.

The biggest tripup for me are the DVDs I check out. If I don’t pay very close attention, they can get expensive!

Anitra March 24, 2008 at 8:13 am

My parents deemed me old enough to get my own library card once I could get to the library on my own (1.5 miles from my house, I’d usually ride my bike there).

I don’t remember how old I was (pretty young – I was just starting to learn cursive writing), but they made it clear to me that I was now solely responsible for the books I checked out. The few times I had fines, I had to pay them myself. I also learned an early lesson in bureaucracy when a book I returned from on inter-library loan “went missing” within the library system and I had to pay the replacement cost.

My thoughts are similar to yours – if the kid was generally responsible and/or the late return wasn’t her fault, I’d pay the fine – otherwise, she’d need to pony up the money on her own.

Jon March 24, 2008 at 8:38 am

Is there any hope in protesting library fines? I just got a late notice for a book I’m *sure* I returned (along with a few others, which they received successfully) and they’re saying it’s not on their shelves so I must have lost it.

FFB March 24, 2008 at 9:56 am

Our daughter is eight and we use the library often. Problem is, if books are late it’s usually our fault since we didn’t get to drop them off in time. Short answer – We pay. When our daughter is old enough to travel there by herself or is old enough to be responsible on her own we’ll have to look into having her pay. Within reason of course.

One interesting thing I saw at our local library is they allow kids to read off their fines. They can come to the library and read and they get credit for every hour there. Not sure the details but it sounds interesting.

mrsmicah March 24, 2008 at 11:11 am

@Jon, my thoughts:

Double check your house just to be positive.

Go to the library and check for the book on the shelves. If it’s nonfiction, check the general area. If it’s fiction, check the general area and then related sections (mystery, sci-fi, etc).

If you find it on the shelf, bring it up and explain that you just found this book on the shelf and would like your fines removed. It helps to be nice here, since the person who’s helping you may not be the person who screwed up. If they won’t take it off, ask to speak to the supervisor.

If you don’t find it on the shelf, ask to have the book put on Claims Return status. That’s a start, though it doesn’t last forever.

If, finally, they declare the book lost and on your account, ask if you can buy a lightly-used copy online instead. See if there’s something cheaper than the replacement cost.

I’m often frustrated for how easy it is for a book to go missing…there’s an error in most checkin systems which allows scanning a book to act as an “enter” key if the program has a note/question/error. But it only counts as pressing “enter” and not as checking in the book.

Good luck!!

Mom@wide open wallet March 24, 2008 at 11:44 am

It has never occurred to me to make my kids pay for a library fine. I suppose if they lost the book then its valid but so far, if we get a fine it’s my fault for not remembering to bring the books back.

Pinyo March 24, 2008 at 12:03 pm

I think it depends on how old the kid is. For me, I would pay the fine to avoid any additional fees, and then deduct small amount from the allowance. I’ll be sure to let my son know why, and how he could prevent it from happening in the future. I think it’s a perfect teaching opportunity.

Funny about Money March 24, 2008 at 12:33 pm

What an interesting question!

When my son was little, we went to the library about once a week or so. There’s was no question that we would take last week’s books back, and so “late fees” never came up. When he started going to school, the campus had a good library and he never seemed to have any problem returning anything he might have checked out. Also, our house WAS a library! We owned every book we’d ever bought (my husband, a F&SF fan, belonged to the Science Fiction Book Club, and so one whole room was lined with bookcases containing that collection–and since both of us were bookworms, two other rooms were full of bookcases, too). We subscribed to a LOT of magazines and newspapers. There was always something in the house for the kid to read.

Library practices have changed since I was a little kid. Back in the Golden Age, when you borrowed a book it came with a card on which the librarian stamped the due date. The darn thing sat there and hummed a guilt trip at you…if you had any Mom- or teacher-induced Good Catholic (Jewish, Prod, Muslim) Guilt at all, there was nooo way you would forget to bring it back on time. Besides, as a Weird Little Kid, I lived in the library, so all the librarian had to do was look funny at me and I would remember to return or renew the books.

Besides, my parents wouldn’t have paid a fine for me: they’d have made me pay it and then wrung my neck! Or worse…kept me out of the library.

LOL! Those were the good old days!

Jesse March 24, 2008 at 12:36 pm

I can speak from experience on the other side of the coin: generally my parents paid for them if I had fines. The biggest reason was that when I used to library the majority of the time it was before I could drive 😉

wealthy_1 March 24, 2008 at 7:24 pm

I try very hard not to have library fines. I believe a debt is a debt is a debt. On the other hand, my husband looks at library fines as a donation to the library.

WorkingRachel March 24, 2008 at 9:43 pm

@wealthy: Depending on the city, the fines may not go to the library at all…in Austin, where I worked for the library, library fines went into the city’s “general fund,” which *never* benefited the library.

I say kids should generally have to pay their own fines, but I can see making an exception for, say, an expensive lost book (pay x percent and Mom will pay the rest of it) or a circumstance in which it really wasn’t the child’s fault.

Grace March 25, 2008 at 3:57 pm

Funny you should bring up library fines. I’d pay my kids’ fines, if only they would actually read the books! In the meantime, I have MY OWN fines, which I reduce by a dollar every time I go in. As nearly as I can tell, I’ve paid for the library carpeting and am now working on new light fixtures.

Misa March 25, 2008 at 7:25 pm

When I was younger, my father, who we only saw every other weekend and two weeks during the summer, used to take my sisters and I to the library frequently (while we were at his house, of course). I would have fought him on having to pay the fines myself because if there ever WERE fines, it wouldn’t have been my fault. I always kept my books in the same place so that if we didn’t make it to the library on a weekend we kids were there, he could just return them himself.

With my mother, things would have been different except that we never lived close enough to the library for me to go by myself. As such, even though I’d ask her several times to make sure we got them back on time, she was often too busy. So I thought it was fair that she pay the fine. (We often disagreed on this.)

However, I think if you child is under the age of 7 or 8 (it depends on the kid), you need to pay the fine. This might mean that you keep the books in your room and they have to check it out from you each time they want to read.

As they get older, offer to pay the fine once. Then say that the next time, they pay the fine. OR they keep it somewhere accessible to you and check books out from you personally.

However, with those things being said, if you don’t get them back the library on time, but they’ve kept track of the books, that’s your fault: you pay.

Misa March 25, 2008 at 7:30 pm

I forgot to mention… to the situation you listed: as the adult on the card, the mother is legally responsible for the money. If she can’t control her kids, then she shouldn’t let them check out books. Even if she makes the kid pay for the book, if it is going to take them more than a couple of weeks to pay it off, she should pay the library, the kid should pay Mom. As the grown-up here, you bite the bullet and pay for your kids’ mistakes. That’s part of being a parent. What the parent and child work out between them is another matter.

Mrs Micah's Mom March 26, 2008 at 11:15 am

We paid your library fines. Since we went every week when you were young, there weren’t many then. We were upset the time you hid a book and couldn’t remember where and we had to end up paying for it, but since, as you said, you had a very small allowance at the time, there was no way we could have made you pay for it.

@Jon, if we couldn’t find a book, we would tell the library and they would tell us to claim it was returned in order to give us more time to look. If we found it on the shelf at the library, which happened several times, they were very good about removing fines. We have a very accommodating library. Maybe you do, too.

Patrick March 26, 2008 at 11:26 am

Kind of a ancillary question on this topic. If you are fined for an item being returned late, once you return said item are all the fees removed.
This is the only practice I’ve ever encountered, but my fiancee has never experienced that.

mrsmicah March 26, 2008 at 11:36 am


That’s true for replacement fees. But late fines will stay on the account even after you return the book.

So, for instance, if you have a book out 2 months late, you’d get a max late fine of $5 and then a charge of maybe $15 to replace it. But if you return the book, then it’s just the $5. Plus our library lets people return the book within a year of paying for it and if they have the receipt they get refunded the replacement fee (but not the late one).

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