Library fees are a relic of a different era

Houston has two libraries, actually. HPL and HCPL. HCPL is infinitely better in every way.I recently read an article that claimed that some libraries were getting rid of overdue book fees. Apparently the fees are hard to collect, don't provide much income for libraries (if at all), and do very little to get people to return books on time. Personally, I pride myself on my lack of fees at HCPL, my local library, though this hasn't always been the case. I believe I may have a warrant for my arrest in New York due to the exorbitant fees I still owe at the NYPL. (Which sucks, for the record.)

I kid about the warrant, but not about the fines. And now I'm facing an interesting problem. My previously spotless record at HCPL is about to be tarnished by the length of George R.R. Martin's A Clash of Kings and the even longer waiting list behind me preventing me from renewing the book.

I'd like to finish the book, and maybe in the future, I'll want to buy it, but not necessarily right now, for the high price the hardcover is fetching. It may be easier to pay a week of late fees, and the whopping $0.70 probably won't hit that hard.

But this makes me think that the idea of removing fees altogether is a good one. Essentially, seventy cents will not speed up my return of the book. It's too small of an amount for me to pay much heed. Every extra day is an extra dime, a coin so small I can't be bothered to pick one up on the street. Does the HCPL derive significant revenue from this small change? I can't believe they can, even if it does all go back into the library coffers.

Much more likely to get me to return the book as quickly as possible is the thought that there's someone waiting in line behind me. But this effect is the same whether or not I pay pennies in fines.

The other thing about library fines is that they punish people for reading. Libraries across the country are seeing budgets slashed, hours cut, and locations closed because they don't have a lot of support from city governments who can see that fewer and fewer people are using libraries. The library should encourage more reading, more patronage, and in order to do this, eradicating late fees may be a good idea.

I'll pay the fines that this book will cost me, happily. But I also question the utility of such a fee. I think that these overdue fees are an ancient relic from a different past and it's probably time to get rid of them.