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Journal of Library Administration






Few issues in librarianship have been as long-lived and frustrating to address as the problem of overdue library materials. Even the most cursory review of the professional literature finds dozens of articles about the problem of overdues.(1) Most of the literature appears to have been written under the assumption that only negative reinforcement techniques (e.g., fines, blocking further borrowing, legal action, etc.) can be effective in minimizing the problem of overdue library materials. However, many librarians have expressed dissatisfaction with the use of fines and other sanctions. Unfortunately, the alternative methods for minimizing overdues have produced mixed results. For example, many of the no-fines policy experiments did not appear to be any more effective than fines in controlling the problem of overdues to the satisfaction of librarians. In addition, a common objection to a no-fines policy is that such a policy is effective, if at all, only in ensuring the eventual return of materials and not in encouraging compliance with loan periods which are intended to maximize the sharing of library materials. An excellent summary of librarians' experiences with the overdues problem came from Alford and other members of the American Library Association Ad Hoc Committee on Fines and Penalties: The findings of the three sections (public, academic, and school) of the Ad Hoc Committee point to the fact that many librarians are not in favor of fines and/or penalties, but none came up with a more workable solution to the problem of how to insure the prompt return of library materials. Of the few suggested alternatives to fines, none that have been tried appeared to produce the desired effect, while some still remain in the realm of theory. Fines and penalties were found to be only slightly detrimental to circulation in academic libraries, with the undesirable effects being social and psychological rather than financial. Public librarians found that high or unlimited fines can lead to a decreased circulation and increased theft and mutilation. In school libraries it was found that on the elementary level, fines are definitely detrimental to library usage. On the secondary school level the evidence is inconclusive, although it is felt that fines can be detrimental to lower socioeconomic groups. The issue of fines and/or penalties still remains a matter of local consideration requiring a local solution. It was found that generalizations covering a1l types of libraries were impossible to produce. Each specific situation appears to need an individual solution. (2)


This is a preprint of an article whose final and definitive form has been published in the Journal of Library Administration, Volume 9, Number 3, 1988, pp.87-101, copyright Taylor & Francis.