There are indeed reasons why library fines might not be the most sensible things to be charging. But that’s different from whether they’re the optimal thing to be doing.
The American librarians, that hotbed of conservative and thus logical thought, have decided that library fines should go because, you know, poor people:
Resolved, that the American Library Association (ALA), on behalf of its members
1. adds a statement to the Policy Manual that establishes that “The American Library
Association asserts that imposition of monetary library fines creates a barrier to the
provision of library and information services.”;
2. urges libraries to scrutinize their practices of imposing fines on library patrons and
actively move towards eliminating them; and
3. urges governing bodies of libraries to strengthen funding support for libraries so they
are not dependent on monetary fines as a necessary source of revenue.
What would a resolution from public servants be if it didn’t include the ritual call for more resources for public servants?
The actual insistence being:
An increasing number of libraries are dropping their late fees because the policies deter and bar low-income residents.
Yes, poor people exist therefore there should be no late fees on borrowings.
That fines shouldn’t a be a source of revenue is true. Even, that the fine system might cost more to run than it collects – true for some systems at least.
But the reason for the fines is the same reason parking meters were first introduced – in order to gain optimal turnover of the asset.
With parking spaces there’s some obvious limit to the number of them nice and close to the stores downtown. Streets are only so wide, so long, etc. If there is no charge for that space and time then there’s a temptation for people to just park there all day. The origin of parking meters was so that the spaces would turn over. That meaning more traffic to the stores near where the spaces were charged for – yes, more, not less. A greater use of that scarce asset, space near the shops by people who were going shopping.
Libraries face the same problem. A book costs x. If it can be lent out 4 times a month then the capital cost of that book per loan is lower than if it can be lent out once a month. Given that we want to optimise – maximise – the benefit we gain from that capital expenditure we desire to speed up the turnover of the books.
The origin is not to do with gaining the book back, it’s to do with speeding up the return of a loan so that it can be lent again – as with the parking spaces.
Which brings us to the correct question to ask about fines. Are they the optimal method of gaining the desired turnover of the library stock? And what’s the one question that we didn’t see the librarians’ association asking? Correct, they didn’t actually ask the only pertinent one therefore we know the answer they’ve come up with is wrong.
But then librarians’ association – we knew they were going to be wrong anyway.