In which I have Blogger’s Block.

It’s been about three weeks since I’ve blogged and that’s mostly because I have used up all of my writing ability (and creativity) on class assignments. I’ve had several librarian-ish thoughts, but none that seem to flow easily onto the page… or computer screen, as the case may be.

11785915 - group of blog related 3d words. part of a series.

So, instead I’m popping by with a list of random information that relates to my library school adventures thus far in September. It may not be the scintillating stuff (ha!) my faithful readers are accustomed to, but if the paragraphs won’t come when called, then bullet points will just have to be good enough:

  • I’m taking two classes this semester. They are:
  • The aforementioned Jill Hurst-Wahl is my new faculty mentor, which is a good thing because:
    • she is one of my favorite professors (and I’m not just saying that to kiss up)
    • we get along (when I’m not complaining about the word length restrictions of her assignments)
    • her professional interests are library innovation and copyright, in which I am also interested
    • my previous faculty mentor (with whom I also got along) is now in South Carolina (and it’s not because I was a bad mentee and scared him off). I will share more about the Mystery of the Disappearing Faculty Mentor in a future post.
  • I have renewed my membership in the New York Library Association (NYLA) and will be attending the annual conference in Saratoga in November, which I’m really looking forward to.
  • I’ve also renewed my membership in the American Library Association (ALA) and will be attending the Midwinter Meeting in Atlanta in January.
    • I’m terribly excited about this, too…
    • … especially since I’ll be sharing a room and getting to spend some time with one of my librarian friends.
  • Dr. Carla Hayden’s swearing in as the 14th Librarian of Congress made me extraordinarily happy and excited about the future of librarianship in this country:

That’s all the news I have for now, but I’ll be back once my clever blogging abilities become unblocked.

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In which I am aghast at the very idea!

Whilst looking at various library-related stories on Twitter, I happened upon this article which I thought, at first, must be a joke. You see, the piece details the decision, by a public library in Alabama, to begin enforcing an ordinance that could result in jail time for certain patrons with overdue library books.

Jail time?
For overdue library books?
What is this world coming to?
What kind of library director would countenance such a thing?
Is she insane?

To be fair, the full story is a bit more nuanced than its somewhat sensational title of:

Borrowed time: US library to enforce jail sentences for overdue books

After reading the article by The Guardian (my favorite news source from the UK), this story from the News Courier in Athens, Alabama, and this report from WAAY TV in Huntsville, Alabama, it seems that the facts are these:

  • Roughly $200,000 worth of books have not been returned to the Athens-Limestone Public Library.
  • Tossing patrons in jail is not the library’s initial response to overdue books. An email or text, followed by a certified letter giving the patron 10 days to settle the matter, are the library’s first attempts at a resolution.
  • Should those steps prove ineffective, a court summons comes next. An additional fine, and up to 30 days in jail, could be the result of ignoring the court summons.
  • The ordinance that allows for all this has been on the books for some time, but is only now being strictly enforced.
  • The measures above will not apply to children.

Woman's Hands Fettered With Handcuffs

On one hand, I sympathize with the library. $200,000 worth of non-returned books is serious business, and public libraries are not so well funded to be able to ignore the matter.

The library director herself is perhaps not such the hard-ass I first thought her. (And no, that’s not a very charitable thing for me to think about a fellow member of my profession. But I’m being honest… that was my initial assumption. This blog post is, in part, an attempt to see things from her point of view.) She’s quoted in the WAAY TV story as saying, “Our first step is to have a good relationship with our patrons and remind them to bring everything back.” And in the News Courier story, she makes it clear that she’s thinking of the taxpayers and about all of the patrons to whom library resources belong and the library’s responsibility to them.

However, after my first week of classes, in which my classmates and I discussed the Core Values of Librarianship, the idea of jail time for overdue books doesn’t sit comfortably in my mind with the American Library Association’s core value of Social Responsibility and the “contribution that librarianship can make in ameliorating or solving the critical problems of society.”

I know that I’m not a proper, credentialed librarian yet. I’m just a student and willing to admit that I’m inexperienced, and maybe even naive, not yet having worked in the library trenches in a full-time, professional capacity. But surely the threat of jail time (even for a tiny segment of public library patrons) is going to cause more problems in the community than it solves. Will patrons still feel as free to borrow from the library knowing what could happen if they cannot pay their overdue fines?

I confess I have more questions than answers, so I’d like to know… what do you think? I’m interested to hear from everyone: library directors, my librarian friends, fellow students, library staff, or anyone who’s ever forgotten to return an overdue library book. Do you believe that jail time should be the final sanction for extreme cases of non-returned library items? If not, how would you address the problem of $200,000 in missing materials?