William Oxley Thompson Memorial Library has piles of books, but when these books and other items are checked out and not returned on time, fines pile up.
Larry Allen, communications coordinator for Ohio State Libraries, said 655,268 items were checked out last year. From July 2010 through December 2010, the libraries collected $82,340 in fines.
However, Allen said in that same period, the libraries waived or adjusted a total of $77,219 in fines.
Tony Maniaci, coordinator of circulation services, said the library does not want to fine students. In fact, OSU libraries do not charge overdue fees on most items.
“Our goal is to get the books and materials returned, not make money. We want to make the materials available to the students and then get them back,” Maniaci said.
Allen said the majority of OSU items are not fined on a daily basis. But if an item is not returned or renewed and is overdue for 14 days, an overdue notice is sent. Thirty-five days later, a second notice is sent and 35 days after that, a total of 84 days overdue, the item is billed.
Students may place a “hold” or reserve an item that has already been checked out. In this case, the item must be returned on time or the patron is subject to a $10-per-day fine.
Closed reserve items and OhioLINK books are the items most subject to fines.
“Most closed reserve items are placed on reserve by instructors for limited use by all in a class, usually two hours per student,” Allen said. Those items are fined at $2 for the first hour overdue and $5 for each hour after the first to a maximum of $102.
Mariam Hussain, a first-year in microbiology, said she was wrongly fined for a closed-reserve item.
“I took out a French textbook for a class, and I returned it within the two hours,” she said. “I got an e-mail two days later that basically said I had a $200 fine that had accumulated from not returning the book on time.”
Hussain then contacted the library to inquire about the erroneous charge.
“I was really confused; I knew I’d returned it,” Hussain said. “I went to the front desk at Thompson and they looked to see if it was on the shelf. Once they found it, they told me they would remove my fine.”
Though Hussain said the library was helpful in removing the fine, she thinks the notice should have been sent sooner.
“I appreciated the e-mail, but I would have preferred it earlier. If I had actually forgotten to return the item, my fine would have been higher than it would have if they warned me sooner,” she said.
An OhioLINK book is a book OSU does not own. OSU has access to materials shared between 88 libraries in Ohio through OhioLINK. An overdue OhioLINK book is subject to a daily fine of 50 cents per day for 30 days, at which point the book is declared lost.
“Due to demand, closed-reserve and OhioLINK materials are declared lost and billed earlier than other materials,” Maniaci said.
Lost book replacement fees are $140 for most materials and $125 for OhioLINK books. Until paid, the university will place a “hold” on a student’s account preventing registration or even graduation.
John Tannous, a third-year in political science, said the registrar hold was frustrating, but the library was easy to work with.
“I had like $800 in fines due to lost books. I returned two that I found, and the library let me purchase a replacement for the third, so I will end up paying about $150. I was surprised,” Tannous said. “I had no idea losing books could affect your ability to register for classes. But when I really had to register, they were very kind and unblocked me for a few hours so I could schedule.”
Maniaci said Tannous was not an exception.
“We try to work with people who have legitimate excuses.” Maniaci said. “We take things on a case-by-case basis and waive a lot of fees for first-time offenders.”
If a book is lost and then found, it can be returned and refunded minus a $10 billing fee assessed for each item assumed lost.
“Sometimes a book is declared lost and billed to the student, and then they miraculously ‘find’ it.” Maniaci said. “In that case, the book may be refunded minus the billing fee, or the student has six months to appeal the fine.”
The revenue from fines is used for maintenance of the facilities and public spaces, furniture, computer equipment and other expenses related to service delivery, Allen said.