BAY CITY, Mich. – Stacks of chronically overdue library books may soon land some readers in Bay County, Mich., more than just a 10-cent-a-day fine. Frustrated librarians are proposing a crackdown on the worst offenders that could include criminal charges and up to 90 days in jail.
"We want to go after some of the people who owe us a lot of money," Frederick J. Paffhausen, the library's system director, told The Bay City Times (search) for a story Thursday. "We want to set an example."
Paffhausen, who took over as director in October, is asking the Bay County Library Board for permission to seek arrest warrants for offenders who ignore repeated notices. The board plans to consider the crackdown next month.
For example, one patron from Bad Axe owes $1,190 for 73 items — mainly science-fiction books — hoarded for more than a year, Paffhausen said.
Patrons keep an average of $25,000 in overdue materials out of the county's library system each year, officials said.
That costs taxpayers money, because the library often must buy second copies to replace unreturned materials, leaving less for new books, CDs and DVDs, Paffhausen said.
Currently, the library cuts off an offending patron's library privileges and sends overdue notices. Daily fines of 5 to 10 cents per item are assessed. If the material is worth $75 or more, the patron receives a form letter from the county Prosecutor's Office warning that it's a crime to keep library items.
Despite the threats, about half the offenders who receive the prosecutor's letter never return the material, librarians said. And nothing more is done.
Cardholders are allowed to check out up to 75 items, depending on the material. And the costs of missing materials can add up. Books, CDs and DVDs typically range from $10 to $25.
Library Board Chairman Michael K. Gray emphasized a crackdown would target only the "most egregious offenders.
"We're not talking about going after children," he said.