LAST WEEK'S ISSUE: -- Starting Monday, the Anne Arundel County Public Library system began 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 lead 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?
Offender must pay collection costs
I think our library's new policy is long overdue (no pun intended).
I've had two instances where material I wanted to check out had missing tapes that were supposed to accompany the books. This week I was waiting to check out and the person at the counter ahead of me was flabbergasted that her fines for over due materials totaled $54!
My thought is: How inconsiderate she is to keep material beyond the due date! Borrowing material from a public library is a privilege, not a right. Responsibilities go hand in hand with the privilege, and fines and collections costs must be borne by the offender, not the taxpayer.
In addition to the collection policy, I'd like the library system to consider suspending the privileges of offenders. Thanks for your article on this topic.
Eric Schwartz Annapolis
Library system is a business
It is not a bad thing to bring in a collection agency. The Anne Arundel Public Library System is a business per se and should have its property returned or fines should be imposed.
If a patron can't return books or videos in a reasonable amount of time, the Anne Arundel County Library System should not have to pay to replace missing materials. It is also unfair to other customers who may want to borrow the missing items.
Victor Henderson Glen Burnie
Privatization hasn't delivered promises
No upfront costs? Each collection initiated costs $8.95. What happens when the deadbeat patrons don't pay up after being contacted by the collection agency? That's a cost to taxpayers of $8.95.
I am not thrilled about this venture considering recent instances where "enterprising entrepreneurs" have in recent years abused government authority. Privatization has not delivered on its promises of saving taxpayer dollars through efficienies or effectiveness. New Orleans and the Compass Pointe Golf Course are good examples.
The Library Board needs to publish regular progress reports on this venture to measure real costs and unforeseen consequences.
Priority is getting items returned
As the administrator of the Anne Arundel County Public Library, I want to assure our patrons that we would never want to discourage anyone from borrowing our materials. We pride ourselves on being an essential connection to learning and enrichment for County residents.
The decision to contract with a collection agency was made not to punish those who had borrowed our materials, but to ensure that our items stay on the shelves and available to all patrons.
We make every effort to help individuals avoid accruing late fees and fines. Patrons who provide us with an email address receive reminder notices three days before their materials are due. Additional notices are sent out by the Library either by email, phone or mail when materials are one-day overdue, and again after a week and one month have gone by. And almost all items can be renewed up to three times, either in the branch, or from home by phone or online through the library's website, www.aacpl.net.
Fines now accrue at a rate of $.20 per day, up to a maximum of $6. If the material is reported lost, patrons must pay a replacement cost of $1 less than the price of the book or other item. Because our main concern is the return of our materials, if a patron pays the replacement cost and subsequently locates the book, the fee, minus the overdue charges, will be refunded.
We regret the need to utilize the services of a collection agency. But the Anne Arundel County taxpayers paid for the nearly 25,000 books and other items - more than $480,000 worth of materials - that are missing from our shelves. We would simply like to put them back where they belong: in the hands of our patrons.