…and how to support your library
Since I was 16, I’ve been employed (for the most part) in libraries. Sometimes in shelving, sometimes at the circulation desk, sometimes in Technical Services (we’re the people who make sure the new materials are ready for the patrons). And one thing that’s common to every library I’ve worked in, whether or not I was the one handling them, is the overdue fines.
Working in circ last year, I handled them all the time. It seemed like one out of three customers had some kind of fine–whether it was $0.15 or $65…or more.
One of the most common things people say when paying a library fine is “Well, at least I’m supporting my library.”
Here’s the sad news–you’re not. Not really. Not in most places.
I haven’t often told patrons this to their faces. Thinking they’re supporting their library makes it less painful to pay the fines. If they’re finding a bit of consolation, I feel bad pulling that away.
At the same time, if it’s letting them form a habit of bringing books back late, then perhaps it’s better they know the truth. So here you are folks, the truth about what the library systems I’ve worked in do with the money.
County libraries give the fine money to the county. It doesn’t go directly to your library or even to the library system. It’s like paying a ticket. Some of it will make its way back into funding libraries, but if you want to help your library financially, there are other ways.
Academic libraries sometimes get to keep it. But, except for in the audiovisual departments, they get a lot less in fines.
So what can you do for your library?
If you’d like to give a little back to your local library, there are a couple ways you can do that.
1) Become a Friend of the Library. Most libraries have a Friends group. These people may pay for a special collection, a special feature (i.e. puzzles, blocks, and other toys for the childrens’ area), or even rebuilding/expanding the library.
If you want your money to make your library better, this is one great way to do it. Even $5 is a start.
2) Donate books to the library. Be aware that not all of them will get used. Many libraries have a small used books section where they sell books that they don’t want for the collection. That money does go the library. In my experience, donated books go to three places–collection, used book area, and dumpster.
So if you want to do your library the most good, donate books that will either be suitable for their collection or be attractive to people browsing used books. 1970s encyclopedias rarely do the trick.
3) Donate your time to the library. As library budgets get slashed like Sweeney Todd’s customers, libraries are hemorrhaging employees and employee hours. Positions are cut, hiring freezes are enacted, the situations in some libraries are becoming so bad that support staff are leaving for non-library positions.
Many of the worst-affected libraries are expanding their volunteer programs. If you can put letters and numbers in order and get the concept of location stickers, they’ll probably take you.