A (Humbling) Look at My Attitude

In a recent post, Jennifer Falvey outlined her top ten sacred cows. Library fines were one of them. Overdue fines have popped up as a topic for discussion in this blog over the past few years. In Dec. 2104, I posted: Overdues: Overdone on the topic. I felt overdues served a purpose in:

  • helping children learn to be responsible
  • encouraging the timely return of books
  • shortening the time past due books stayed out
  • decreasing time spend sending emails/letters/phone calls by attaching a consequence to overdue books
  • modeling the real world “late fee” policies of most businesses and public libraries

My Change in Attitude

Last year, at the encouragement of my librarian colleague, we decided to stop collecting fines for the second half of the school year, to see what happened. My biggest change was a change in attitude. It is painful to admit, but (apparently!) I have a judgmental streak. The “right” way to use the library is to borrow and return on time, right?  I was able to find a shift in attitude, that allows me to be more on the side of reader-helping-reader (“Let’s get the book back, so other readers can enjoy it”) and doing the right thing, not because of a fine, but because it is the right thing to do.

Random observations

(Our library serves about our 640 students in grades 5-12):

  • Updates to our checkout software (Destiny) allowed me to set an automated “Courtesy Reminder” that goes out two days before a book is due. This has helped students get in front of an overdue, by renewing a book or turning it in.
  • The fine amount (10 cents/day) was insignificant as a motivating factor
  • The fine amount (10 cents/day) was too low to replace lost books
  • Students rarely have pocket change on them
  • I didn’t like not following through on a consequence (“Your fine is 40 cents”), yet who wants to tell a 6th grade parent, paying thousands for tuition, that their child should bring 40 cents to school? I also didn’t like chasing down older students for minimal amounts, yet deleting money owed without consequence felt like it sent the wrong message.
  • I think both parent and student feel the importance of the situation more when they receive a note re: $20 replacement cost, versus getting a reminder that there is a late book with 50 cents or $1.20 due.

Quick Question and Answer:

Are more books past due? It’s about the same.

Do I spend more or less time chasing late books? It’s about the same. I no longer personalize emails with the amount due—I email a weekly past due reminder via the BCC field.  If I get no response after two emails, I make a phone call or send an individualized third email with cc: to parent email. This is about 3-8 students per week.

Would I advocate a return to assessing overdue fines? No. Although I think “no fines” does cushion children slightly from reality, I think there are other ways I can model and encourage responsibility.

I appreciate having a forum to share thoughts and challenges with members of the AISL community. Thank you for all making this a safe space to talk about moments of growth as well as sharing ideas and successes!

3 thoughts on “A (Humbling) Look at My Attitude

  1. We stopped assessing fines about 15 years ago. However, we do give demerits – 2 demerits for every week overdue. We email reminders and make renewing as easy as possible. We have found that this method gets most of our books back on time as there are consequences if they are late. It also allows us to focus on getting books out to the students instead of hounding them to bring them back.

  2. Thanks for sharing your (slightly painful) process in moving away from library fines. (And for the shout-out; such a thrill to see one’s name in someone else’s post!)
    I especially appreciate your random reflections on the experience. I like the idea of sending reminders *before* the book is overdue; my public library does this, and I am so grateful for the chance to renew them or get them into the car!
    And I agree that hounding students/parents for .40 is cringe-worthy–Nay, perhaps even aghastable! I also agree that being dinged for replacing a lost book can be a more effective real-world teaching tool.
    I’d love to hear from others about any other experiences with this or other sacred cows; just imagine what other uselessly entrenched behaviors we can chuck! (Though I still insist Dewey isn’t one of them [yes, that one is still coming!].)

  3. I like your reasoning for the shift. As I wrote in response to Jennifer’s, I think there are better ways to spend my time than chasing down 40 cents. As part of my reframing, I like that I can teach them that libraries are helpful and approachable so they’ll use them as they approach college and adulthood. I have also relaxed the two week policy for my high school fiction readers, automatically renewing during the semester because mine used to tell me they didn’t check out books when they were stressed about finishing them on time.

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