Debt collectors chasing up library fines

I find this outrageous. This story made news headlines in Melbourne, Australia yesterday. Credit to

A HEAVY-handed library called in international debt collectors to hunt down fines on books borrowed by a boy, 8, after he returned them five days late.

Year 3 student Tom Wenn was reduced to tears when his parents were slapped with a debt collection notice for books he borrowed from Balwyn library last October, the Herald Sun reported.

Within just two months, a $7 fine for five late books had ballooned to $46.75 including a $15 fee from the agency.

The council was also demanding $15 for a book it alleged had been returned wet.

But Tom’s mother Susie O’Brien, a Herald Sun columnist, said the letter was the first they knew of any outstanding fees or allegations of a damaged book.

“We got an email from the library saying the books were late, so we returned them, and I thought it would be like a video shop where you pay a small fine when you go back,” she said.

“But there was no warning of any outstanding money until the letter from the debt collectors. This is not a serial offender, it’s an eight-year-old.”

Dr O’Brien said she spent more than an hour in the library questioning the fines and disputing that Zac Power: Fossil Fury, had been returned damaged.

Eventually, she said, it was reduced to the original late levy of $7, after staff discovered an error had been made in the fine process.

But she accused the library, run by Boroondara Council, of treating her like a “petty criminal”.

Dr O’Brien said she was sent a letter of apology welcoming her son back.

Tom said he had been too scared to return to the library at first.

“I felt quite sad because I was sure I had returned them, and I spent a couple of hours looking for them,” he said.

Council policy is that library debts exceeding $25 are referred to debt collectors after 60 days, but three reminder notices are usually sent out first.

In a statement, Kylie Mussared, acting director of community development, admitted there had been an error in notifying the family.

Processes were being reviewed and “we unreservedly apologise for the distress our administrative error has caused this member and her family”, she said.



Personally I don’t understand what the library are trying to accomplish? Are we really living in a society where even the library is more concerned with outsourcing debt collectors than they are about educating? This is a kid who loves the library, and sometimes yes, kids forget to return library books. Now this poor kid is going to not want to re-visit his library again in the future because of what has happened now.

I am all for libraries charging fines for overdue or damaged books. If you do the crime you do the time so to speak. But perhaps on going back to the library when you next borrow books, you settle your fines (which btw is how it is at my library). I do think this is a gross overreaction on the libraries behalf. The fact that they ONLY decided to back down once this story went to the media makes me wonder why they were sticking to their guns before this. I am pretty outraged.

Our children live in times where iPods, iPads, PS3, Xbox, DS, Wii, Computers, TV and every other electronic device known to man seem to dominate. It’s hard enough as it is to encourage kids to keep reading these days, and here is a boy who loves reading, and now in he feels discouraged from wanting to return.

I just hope the library really has learnt it’s lesson now. Thoughts?

What do you think?

  • Kayla B. says:

    I am a librarian in Louisiana, USA, and my library system is considering using a debt collection agency in the future to go after our patrons that have huge fines. No details have been made, but the idea has been floating around. The reason behind this is that the materials belong to the entire community, and funds are hard to come by due to the economic slump. If we show accountability for tax payers’ money here, we’re likely to lose it. However, we’re also talking of getting rid of fines altogether and having a policy where you must bring something back in order to get something else. The situation with the boy is so unfortunate, and I hope a gross misrepresentation of how the debt collection system should work. Mistakes like that should NEVER happen.

    I have to admit that I was floored that there was a fine of $7 for five books being five days late. Our current late fines are either $0.05 or $0.10 a day (I forget which) for books and $1 a day for DVDs (which we’re thinking of reducing since they’re not as expensive anymore). The only time that fines get to outrageous amounts are if items aren’t returned at all, or if someone checks out the maximum number of DVDs (nine) and doesn’t bring them back for a few days.

    All of that being said, the story truly broke my heart because reading is so magical to children and should be encouraged at all costs. I think all libraries should put the children first. Always.

    Heh, sorry for the rant. :P

  • juhina says:

    wow, just wow. I mean i understand the need for people to return things on time and such but my god, FIVE days late? and in the end it was a mistake by the library, seriously, they’re just scaring away the kid from reading. That was so unprofessional

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