The San Jose Public Library has revealed that three patrons owe overdue fines in excess of $10,000, and three owe more than $5,000, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.
The library might be willing to waive the fees, but the problem is that it is owed $6.8 million overall, by 187,000 users, and many of the fines are simply too steep for ordinary families to pay.
The fines are not racked up on individual books in a library user’s account, but on large numbers of individual books they may have borrowed or lost. Typical fines are 50 cents per day, up to a maximum of $20, plus the cost of the item, if misplaced.
But many families — especially with children — may have dozens of items with fines outstanding. That has led to problems with collecting the debt — and it has discouraged many families from continuing to use the library, since children cannot take out books until their families have paid the fines.
There is public pressure, the Chronicle notes, to name and shame the worst offenders. San Jose Mercury News columnist Scott Herhold wrote that shielding the system’s biggest abusers “attempt[s] to throw a cloak of secrecy over something that is ugly enough to deserve public show.”
However, library officials point out that state law protects the privacy of library accounts. They are working to find alternative ways to help patrons pay off their fines while still accessing the library and its services.
According to world records maintained by Guinness, the largest library fine actually paid was $345.14, paid in 2002 to a public library in Illinois for a book 47 years overdue. The Internet abounds, however, with examples of library fines that ought to have been far steeper, including books overdue for well over a century and accumulating fines in excess of several hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. His new e-book, Leadership Secrets of the Kings and Prophets: What the Bible’s Struggles Teach Us About Today, is on sale through Amazon Kindle Direct. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.