In a move that is still resonating throughout the library community, the Obama Administration announced that it would be granting nation-wide amnesty to library patrons with overdue books and fines. What this means for the financial bottom line in libraries remains uncertain. One thing’s for sure–libraries won’t hear the cha-ching of the circulation desk cash drawer for some time to come.
“Libraries already have a tough time collecting these fines,” commented an Administration official who added, “Getting Americans to spend that money in stores will certainly do more to stimulate the economy.”
Neither the American Library Association nor any of its divisions had a prepared statement in reaction to this bold move by Obama’s team. One insider commented that the impact of millions of dollars stimulating book stores and coffee shops would have an equally detrimental impact on story times, book clubs, and the millions of job-seekers around the country.
While aggregate totals are difficult to come by, some large county and municipal ibrary systems can be expected to collect over seven figures in library fines. It’s estimated that as much as 9% of public library budgets come from fines (from a2006 IMLS Survey). Academic libraries, on the other hand, report major declines in fine revenues due to the fact that college students don’t really read paper-based books anymore.
Finally, some opposition talk show hosts are already postulating that this mass forgiveness of fines might have a dark underbelly, raising questions about the library fines of certain donors to the Obama-Biden presidential campaign. Rep. Lew Rosnec (R-VA) is already calling for a Congressional probe into the library records of thousands of Obama supporters, a move that is sure to be challenged by the ALA and library patrons across the country.
It’s still not clear when libraries will be allowed to start charging fines again. One silver lining to the plan could actually bring millions of people (and milliions of books) back to libraries after years of fearing the punitive nature of the dreaded overdue fine.