San Jose Readers Owe Their Library $6.8 Million in Late Fees

Apparently the good people of San Jose are not very good at returning their library books on time – or at paying up when they return books late. According to the San Jose Mercury News, San Jose Library patrons owe an incredible $6.8 million in unpaid overdue fines.

One reason for that eye-popping figure: the San Jose City Council raised library fines in 2009 to help libraries avoid closures during the recession. Politicians hoped to keep libraries open by having patrons pay steeper fines. But instead of paying more, many patrons stopped paying entirely.

Of course, avoiding library fines means avoiding the library. The San Jose Library has already suspended an incredible 40% of the system’s library cards because of unpaid fines, and still more patrons may be staying away from the library to avoid having to pay their debt or return their overdue books (some of which would be very difficult to replace). That means that the library is losing money, customers, and books at the same time – a very bad combination.

To combat the problem, some city leaders are suggesting a compromise: amnesty for patrons who can find and return their books. The library would forgive the debt, but it would at least get back its books and patrons. For patrons who can’t find their books but also can’t afford to replace them, there could be more compromises. Among other suggestions, librarian Jill Bourne has floated the idea of patrons swapping volunteer time for fine forgiveness.

No solution has been decided upon yet, but politicians are feeling the heat – $6.8 million is a pretty hefty bill to foot.