This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, December 12, 1990

December 12, 1990 - Food for Fines

You've probably seen the cartoon: a librarian has tied a young boy to a chair. She says into the telephone, "All right, Mrs. Jones. You've got our books. We've got your son."

This strikes people funny because it plays on our stereotype of the bespectacled bookworm, her mouth perpetually pursed in a "Sh!" -- her iron-gray hair tightened into a bun. She has nothing to do, really, but fret about books that should have been returned yesterday, much as an elderly hen might cluck over a pack of wayward chicks.

Truth is, I haven't worn my hair in a bun since the 60's, which back then was considered pretty cool. And most of the librarians I know are too busy rustling up good books to want to intimidate children, or worry overmuch about the small percentage of library materials that walks away from us forever.

We understand that sometimes people don't remember things as well as they'd like to. We realize too that people can get really attached to our books and not want to give them up. It's just that we don't want to either.

Every library has a core group of miscreants. I don't mean the average guy, who brings in two or three books a few days late every couple of months. I don't mean the young mother who checks out 30 children's picture books then has trouble tracking them all down. Her kids are reading, and we're proud of her. I mean those people who consistently check out our spanking new and most popular books or stroll out with some oft-requested classics -- then ignore all of our notices, letters and phone calls.

Under Colorado law, failure to return library materials is a Class 3 Misdemeanor. Among librarians, opinions differ about an appropriate punishment for repeat offenders. Some feel that capital punishment is the only sure deterrent. Others wonder -- can't we do something a little more drastic?

Of course, sometimes these Criminals are basically good-hearted people too embarrassed to bring back the books. Or they're afraid the fine will be astronomical. Okay, they should be a little embarrassed, but if they bring back the books, at least they'll have their self-respect. And let's get real, here. The maximum fine for most books is only $3.000 -- and it takes almost a month to get that high. By contrast, the average replacement cost for an adult fiction hardback is between $15-20.

But let's not dwell too much on the numbers. This IS a holiday season, and because here at the Douglas Public Library District we're anything but stereotypical, we're going to try something a little different this year.

We're calling it our Food For Fines program. From December 10 through the end of the 1990, we will accept canned goods at each of our library branches in lieu of overdue fines. That's right. As long as you bring back the book, the most you'll have to pay for any one person's total fines is a single can of food.

At the end of the program, we'll donate the food to one of Douglas County's two Food Banks.

I should mention that you don't have to owe the library any fines in order to donate some canned goods. After all, the real meaning of libraries isn't about money, it's about people helping people.

It's food for thought.

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