Library raises effort to collect overdue fines - 13 WTHR Indianapolis

Library raises effort to collect overdue fines

Library CEO Laura Bramble Library CEO Laura Bramble

Mary Milz/Eyewitness News

Indianapolis - The Marion County Library system is owed millions of dollars - a big chunk of it, the library might never get back.
It involves lost or unreturned library materials. While most people return books and other items on time, others don't.
Monica Coffey admits she's one. Her tab? $151.88.

"That's more than I thought. I think I've lost some things," Coffey said.

Porsche Alvarez, another patron said she owed, "like $250 on books, DVD's and movies. One of them is 'Sam I Am' from fourth grade and I forgot I had it. That was a long time ago."

Those fines might sound hefty, but they're nothing compared to the top three.

According to the library, one patron owes $3,373, another $4,108 and one man $7,959 in outstanding fees and replacement costs.

Patron Derek Blanks was stunned.

"You said $8,000 and mine was only $40? I'm going to pay it," Blanks said.

Library CEO Laura Bramble called the numbers "eye-opening." But how does it happen?
"I thought the same," Bramble said. "For the large one, this person came in and checked out 125 items in one day and that was it. They never came back and we can't trace them."

A patron is allowed to have 125 items checked out at any given time, though there are limits on DVDs, CDs and videos.

Bramble said most people are on the hook for far fewer items. She said they move, become ill, lose materials or simply forget, but after a while it adds up with late fines ranging from 25 cents to $2 a day. Then after 40 days, they're charged the cost to replace the item, plus a $5 per item processing fee and $10 for debt collection.

Looking deeper into the costs, Bramble estimated the library has lost $5 million on missing materials over the last 15 years.

"I was surprised. I didn't know it was that high," she said.  "and it's not for lack of trying to encourage people to bring materials back."

The library hired a collection agency in 2004 to go after anyone who owes $25 or more, warning that unpaid library fines can affect a persons credit rating.

"The threat of being reported to a credit agency makes a difference. You go to apply for a home loan and it says you have fines. It sounds strange, but it has motivated people to settle fines," Bramble said.

"My credit isn't outstanding now but $150 isn't going to help either so I better go and try to fix this," Coffey said.

Bramble said the amount of unpaid fines and fees is high enough to prompt another look at library policy.

"We'll probably look at the number of items you can check out and we're talking to our attorney about the next step in the legal process," she said.

Bramble said while some libraries have no limits on the number of materials you can check out, the average is about 50-60 per patron.

She also noted the library paid the debt collection agency $162,000 last year to go after people who owe it money. She said the amount they brought in was greater than the library paid them by a margin of roughly three to one.

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