So you’re dependent on fines: The seven step plan to removing your addiction

Look, Mrs Public Library Service, I’ve been a friend of yours for years now and as a friend, I need to talk to you. The truth is, and I’m sorry to say this because I know how much it will hurt, you are addicted. To fines. Like any addiction, it’s going to be hard for you to break out of your dependence. But the good news is that there are ways out. We library systems who are on the path out of addiction are here for you. We even have a step-by-step plan.

Why do I call it an addicton? Well, Wikipedia (and if you have a problem with me quoting that, get over it or stop reading now – you’re just not ready) defines addiction as:

“Addiction is a brain disorder characterized by compulsive engagement in rewarding stimuli despite adverse consequences.”

Fines are this. They provide rewarding stimuli. It’s called money and is especially important in 2018. Addicts often find excuses for their behaviour, with alcoholics often saying how it helps with stress, with more stress causing more drinking. You have the same. Budgetary pressures mean more chaining of the service to fines, and in the most addicted examples, increases in fines. Another reason to stay addicted is inertia. It’s always easier to stay addicted for one more day than to stop and change behaviour. Like alcohol (“I need it to sleep”, “it helps me socialise better”) there are positive reasons found for fines. Such as the argument that people would never return books otherwise. But, the good news is that, just like it’s possible for someone who likes a drink to be entertaining sober, it’s possible to have a functioning library system without fines. I know this because in a world where once everyone was an addict, when everyone had fines, there are now successful libraries working without them. And they haven’t collapsed. Indeed, people report that they’re even more fun to hang out with.

The adverse consequences of fines are well known even to you, an addict. It’s obvious. Library users coming to the desk disputing a fine, sapping the strength of even the most diplomatic library worker who has to balance the need to punish the person (yes, fines are punishment – you know they are. That’s why they’re “fines”.) with the need to keep them. People simply not coming to the library because they realise that their busy lives mean they’ll forget occasionally. Heaven knows, even you forget sometimes. And the most heartrending of all, the parent returning the library card of a child because they returned a book late. You know this happens. Like the addict that justifies their behaviour but can see the impact it has, you know this.

But don’t worry, there is a step-by-step plan to remove your addiction. The going may be hard. You may be under pressure from your fellow addicted library authorities, and budget-holders, to conform and backslide. But there is light at the end of the tunnel. And, like methadone. there are even now technological substitutes.

Step one. Admit you have a problem. That fines are a Victorian punishment way of thinking that has no place in the high-technology highly competitive world of 2018. You got rid of the physical barriers a while ago and you’re proud of that. Now let’s stop disproportionately punishing people on lower incomes. Accept that you’re on a path and you know that reducing fines is a good way to go. You may not be ready to give up on fines entirely but you accept punishing your customers is not the best or only way.

Step two.  Send online reminders out to those with books likely to become overdue. Most of you already do this. Well done, you’re on the road to success. For those that don’t, look you have a problem. Let’s talk.

Step three. Remove fines for under 5s. Ooh, you’ll get nice publicity for this. And think of all those kids who go to your tot sessions, which is the most successful activity you run. Their parents will love it. They may even start taking out picture books rather than just attending and leaving. Even better, it’s also a really easy fine to stop – tots are a tiny minority and you’ll get plaudits for it. It’s the library equivalent of no longer having a gin before noon.

Step four. Remove fines for under 16s. Well done, you’ve removed fines for under 5s and you’ve discovered the world hasn’t ended. You’re on your way. Now lets stop the classic addictive behaviour of punishing children.  Kids under 16 are the most likely to need lots of books and are in the least position to pay for them. Enable them. Don’t let poor kids suffer unfairly compared to those with wealthy parents. You know it’s right. And your councillors will do too, especially if there’s an election year coming up.

Step five.  Remove fines for over 60s. You’ve done it for kids. Now do it for the other group on restricted incomes that rely on libraries. And they vote as well. A lot. Remind your councillors of this. Make a thing of it whenever you talk to people. You’re one of the good guys now. Be proud.

Step six.  Automatic renewal of non-reserved books. Ooh, this is the big one. So far, you’ve been agreeing with me (but with the inevitable “yes buts” of inertia) but a lot of you will stop here. You’re not ready. You deep down don’t trust your public to return books in time. You think that adults – adult library users – only obey the rules because you’ll charge them pennies per day if they don’t. No. The reason most people return their books is that they’re not selfish monsters. If it makes you feel better, fine them if the book is reserved and they don’t return it. There’ll be an increase in the number of reservations sure but, hey, you like income right? That’s a good thing. And you’ll see at a glance what books you need to buy more of. Unlike now.

Step seven – It’s the big one. Stop drinking, sorry, stop fining completely. Hold your head up in the High Street and be truly a library that believes in equality and has removed the barriers. You won’t be the first even in England (well done Rutland and Trafford) but you’ll be there. Now help out those neighbouring authorities near you by sharing them stories of your happy non-addicted life. Perhaps even share the data that shows what impact it has had on your usage and income …

Oh, hang on, that will mean sharing data. You may not be ready to do that yet. But don’t worry, I’m sure there’s a step-by-step programme for that somewhere…

[The first draft of this article started “Mr Public Library Service” not Mrs. After thinking about it, and a tweet, I’m going to change it to Mrs, not because public library services are intrinsically one gender or another, but because if I was guilty of subconscious sexism then its’ completely in my power to change that. And if I can change, so you can you, even on fines – Ed.]

  • #1 written by Richard Stone
    about 6 years ago

    This had me laughing out loud and crying with laughter. A great piece of work.

    I have sent it to my library contact for he to read, she hasa sense of humour and will like this.

    Thanks for the laughs.


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