Thursday, January 03, 2008

patronage of a different sort

at work, i'm the library person, the one who lives, breathes, and supports institutions that support free access to information.

and so i wasn't surprised when after i visited the local library during lunch yesterday, a few beach reads sitting on my desk (thanks marianaria!) started a conversation around libraries. specifically, the topic turned to remorse.

and guilt.

and money. my coworker owes some hefty fines, and is filled with a level of embarrassment that keeps her from returning the books and submitting her overdue fines. because of this guilt, she hasn't visited the library in years. because of this guilt, she can't muster up the moxie to return them. i suggested to her that librarians are nice people; they'll be happy to get the books back, and she can consider the late fees (somewhere around $75) a nice donation to a crucial civic institution. i even offered to join her on her walk of shame and i offered to slip the books into the drop. she declined, sheepishly.

and then, during a casual conversation in the hallway, another coworker admitted the same feelings of guilt and remorse. i shared the story of our coworker, and suggested they link arms and visit the library together. power in numbers! support your library! i thought i may have found the missing motivation.

and then, today, the second remorser stopped by my desk with a smile on her face and confidence in her step, on her way to the library to settle her fines. she remarked that my words had convinced her it was time to "face my demons."

haven't yet heard how her demon session went, but it felt good to help at least one former patron become a current one.

(in recent news, nyt published a story about the ny public library and their use of collection agencies to control violators. the library listserv world was aghast about this practice. some librarians even postulated about getting rid of fines all together...)


Chris said...

Libraries could get around this and help out themselves and other institutions by having creative "amnesties" for fines. Donate canned food, volunteer hours (at the library or other non-profit organization in the community, say, for instance, a literacy organization), or something else that may not involve money - or have them buy something off the wish list that the library has.

I am not aware of specific research, although I am vaguely familiar that fines have been shown to keep away the neediest of library users and penalize young users the most. But we have now set up a system where fines are a revenue source for libraries and we (as librarians) are loathe to get rid of them because we need the funding. So, we cut off our nose to spite our face, even though I think we could come up with some basic easy ways to help people overcome those feelings of guilt, get them back int eh library, and not have to pay an agency to collect our fines (although that has been shown to be highly effective versus keeping it in house).

sarah said...

thoughtful comment, cj. thanks.

i love the idea of donating time! there's this figurative and literal "you'll pay for your misdeeds" that seems so counter to a vital free institution. i liked how you said that libraries have depended on this stream of money as a revenue source; it's not a minor point that lack of funding has forced libraries to evolve in this manner.

as i mentioned, the library listerv world was up in arms over this topic--rightly so--and many offered that they were using the same collection agency as nypl, and were loathe to admit that they were making many pretty pennies. it's a tough topic, one worth a bit of rumination and experimentation, mehinks.