Overdue Books

Although my little Maine hamlet (population 234 on a good day) is too small to support its own library, we do have an arrangement (and are taxed accordingly as part of our property taxes) with the town of Lovell to utilize their libraries.  They have two:  one at the north end, which was formerly a one-room schoolhouse (I wrote about it in my blog post entitled “How Rural is My Maine Town?“), and the other, a renovated beauty that, with its limited selection of inventory, serves as a true community and cultural center with a variety of activities.  There is a book club, kids’ arts and crafts and storytelling, a gardening club, yoga, nature lectures, weekly cribbage games, monthly lectures on organic farming, and occasional lectures by the Maine Humanities Council on everything from history, foreign policy, to current events.  If you want a specific book, chances are you won’t find it on the library’s shelves, but the librarians are happy to order it for you as an inter-library loan from other larger libraries in Maine.

Because the collection is so limited, I make an effort to return books I’ve read within a day or two of finishing them to ensure their active circulation amongst residents desperate for a good read.  Once, I forgot to return a book and received a friendly reminder by email.  When I returned the book, I asked how much I owed in late fines.

“Oh, we don’t charge; we go by the honesty policy,” the librarian told me.  While there were a few books that were forever lost this way, most people were good about returning borrowed books on time, she said.  Wow, I thought, that would never be the case in my home town.

But then I read today’s Conway Daily Sun, a small paper published just over the Maine-New Hampshire border.  It turns out that most towns around here don’t charge library patrons late fees:  instead, they call the police!

In an article reported by Damon Steer, he writes:

Astute readers of the Conway police logs — which are published on Conwaypd.com — may have noticed the May 16 entry saying that officer Richard Gaudreau was investigating overdue library books.

When patrons don’t bring back their books, magazines, CDs and DVDs on time, the library sends them notices, followed by telephone calls.

After that, tardy patrons are referred to the police.

. . . “We investigate them as theft,” said Lt. Chris Mattei,  “. . . It doesn’t usually end up in prosecution. but sometimes it does.”

According to one librarian, police are “very helpful” and tend to get “different results” than the library’s notice.

At one rural New Hampshire library, there is a “Guilt Alleviation Box” near the front desk,”People do occasionally drop donations into it.”  added that getting money that way “has a nicer feel” than assessing a fine.

Imagine having a police record that says “overdue library materials!”  That’s enough to put the fear of G-d into any bookworm.

Click here for the link to the original Conway Daily Sun article.

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