Overdue fines? Bill would allow libraries to use collections agencies

Overdue fines? Bill would allow libraries to use collections agencies

A bill at the state Capitol aims to get library users to pay up on their overdue book fines.

State Sen. Sheila Harsdorf, R-River Falls, is proposing a bill to allow libraries to provide information to collection or law enforcement agencies to help them recoup the cost of lost materials.

“This is something where you may have an extensive amount of unreturned materials and outstanding fines and that cost falls on the taxpayers,” Harsdorf said. “This is something we believe will be helpful to them as they deal with their tight budgets.”

Right now under state law, Harsdorf said privacy laws prevent libraries from sharing information with a third party, including law enforcement departments.

Officials at the Verona Public Library said right now less than 1 percent of their patrons owe more than $100 in fines, and about 2 percent owe more than $50.

They’re missing items worth $17,769 that have been lost over the last five years, but right now they only can send a bill to the patrons asking them to pay.

But there are some libraries, including Madison Public Libraries, that do use a collections agency.

“They have a process called the ‘gentle nudge’ so they continue to send reminders and try to contact people to get them to return materials,” Borrower Services Manager Margie Navarre Saaf said.

Navarre Saaf said they do believe they’re contracting with Unique Management Services legally, but would like the bill passed to make the law clearer and because using collection agencies is so effective.

“We’ve recovered about $100,000 a year average that were returned after we used Unique Management Service that we didn’t by sending our own notices,” Navarre Saaf said.

Verona’s library director said they may use a collections service if the bill was passed.

“It is essentially theft, so it would be great to have another tool in our arsenal,” Director Stacey Burkart said.

All of the libraries involved say they really want their items back, and not fines, and will work with anyone who has accrued fines on a payment plan.

Harsdorf is currently looking for co-sponsors for the bill.