Starting tomorrow, the Anne Arundel County Library System will begin referring accounts with more than $35 due to a collection agency that specializes in bringing in revenue and recovering outstanding books, movies and other materials.
"We've done just about everything that we can do on our end with the staff and the resources that we have," said library spokeswoman Laurie Hayes. "These materials belong to the taxpayers and to our patrons. They belong on the shelves."
Referring customers to collection agencies is nothing new for private lenders and large corporations. However, libraries have a more delicate relationship with their clients because their mission is to provide information, not to profit.
On the other hand, they are not out to lose money. Anne Arundel's 15 branches are missing about 24,500 pieces of material with a replacement cost of $482,000 - a substantial amount for an agency operating on $13 million annually.
That's why library trustees, following the leads of Baltimore, Montgomery and Charles counties, decided to turn to Unique Management Services, a company with about 875 clients in the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom.
There is no upfront cost to the county. It pays $8.95 for each collection initiated, and the company then charges a $10 service fee to each errant library patron.
Is bringing in a collection agency a good idea? Will it discourage book borrowing - or encourage book returning? Tell us what you think at firstname.lastname@example.org by Thursday. Please keep your responses short, and include your name, address and phone number. A selection will be published next Sunday.