Auburn library getting tough on overdue books

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AUBURN – The library police have come to Auburn with a charitable twist – for one week, anybody returning overdue items will be fined food instead of money.

Once the week is over, the library will get tough, hiring a collection agency to go after items that were not returned.

It works like this: during the week of March 22-27, the library will forgive a dollar’s worth of fines for each item of nonperishable food the offender brings in for the Good Shepherd Food-Bank in Auburn.

The arrangement has the capacity to bring in an enormous amount of food for area needy. According to library Director Lynn Lockwood, approximately 1,100 people have accumulated more than $83,000 in overdue items and fines over the past three years.

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Over what is being billed as Amnesty Week, the benefits are expected to be threefold: book borrowers get out of paying cash fines, the library gets their stuff back and food is rounded up for people who need it.

“We would like to recover our materials, give users a fresh start with no fines on their records and help the community at the same time,” Lockwood said.

The Food for Fines program applies only to late fees, not to fines for lost or damaged items.

There are incentives for library users to scrounge through their pantries instead of their wallets during Amnesty Week. If simple altruism isn’t enough, consider what happens when that week is over.

“It’s especially important that library users take advantage of this Amnesty Week,” Lockwood said, “because after the food for fines week, the library’s trustees will, as necessary, use a third party to encourage patrons with overdue materials to return them to the library as well as to encourage patrons with fines to pay them.”

That is, the real library police will be at work. The library board plans to use Unique Management, a company that focuses exclusively on recovering library materials and collecting fines. The library deal with Unique Management goes into effect April 1 and will continue for a 90-day trial.

Items missing from the library are of huge concern to the board. According to board President Dick Trafton, the library budget can not handle the cost of replacing items that are not returned.

“The Auburn Public Library is serious about recovering overdue materials and fines,” Trafton said. “Fortunately, only a relatively small percentage of library users will be affected. We think most library users will appreciate our attempts to provide cost-effective service, protecting the materials purchases with tax dollars and donations.”

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