Libraries’ fine enforcement borders on excessive


Libraries across eastern Iowa are cracking down on fines. Many people who have returned overdue items to their local libraries are finding themselves being hounded by collection agencies as the libraries become adamant about late returns.

While these fees are obviously important to the library — especially in tough economic times — the measures libraries take to get those fees is a bit excessive. On campus, library fines can block students from registering. For faculty, an overdue fine could mean a levied paycheck.

Like many public libraries across Iowa, UI Libraries is cracking down on student and faculty fines. Amy Paulus, the head of Access Services for the University of Iowa Libraries, says that after a fee accumulates to $6 or more, the Libraries sends the fee to the University Business Office. According to Paulus, the $6 fee is equivalent to a recalled book being overdue for two days, a course reserve book being overdue for three hours or two days, depending on the loan length, or a book with a two-week or less loan period being overdue for 12 days.

Once the fee is handed over to the University Business Office, the UI can enforce payment of the fine in one of several ways. For faculty and staff, Paulus says, the university can take the fee out of their paychecks. For students, an accumulation of fees could mean being restricted from registering for classes or having transcripts withheld until the fees are resolved. She says that the purpose of the fines is to make sure all students, faculty, and staff have access to library materials.

While we understand the purpose of the university enforcing certain penalties and restrictions for library fines, telling students they can’t register for classes because of a small fee is a little extreme. The UI Libraries does have the right to collect its money, but the penalties it enforces can have serious consequences for students.

At an institution as large as the UI, registering for classes can often be a challenge. Depending on the size of certain programs, the demand for specific courses can be overwhelming. In many lectures, on the first day of classes, it’s not unusual to see students sitting on the floor because of the lack of space in an overcrowded classroom.

Placing restrictions on student registration only complicates this. It’s already difficult enough for students to be admitted into the classes they need in order graduate on time; adding more obstacles to the process could prevent students from completing their programs. In many programs, preregistration for classes is required. This process guarantees a students will be admitted to at least one of the classes he or she need to earn a degree. Without these classes being secured through preregistration, there is no guarantee that students will be able to take the classes they need. At the end of the day, a $10 fee shouldn’t be the difference between a student being able to graduate in an appropriate amount of time.

In a perfect world, everyone would return the items he or she borrows from the library on time, and there would be no need for fees. Because this is obviously not the case, the library should be able to collect its money by enforcing penalties, but only in situations that warrant these penalties. Large fines should certainly be punished. But by punishing those people who have small fees, the UI’s library system is only making things more complicated for students, staff, and faculty.

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