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Thanks to all of you who responded with helpful hints.

Here is my original post:

"My name is Maud Ann Wilson and I need help on an
ELEM. TARGET about students with long overdues.
Please respond if you have any time and good ideas...

Every year I have one or two students who have not paid for
their lost library books from the previous school year.
My principal has suggested that every student/family should
pay for lost books before they check out others so I do
everything I can to try and get their replacement money.
At the same time I want every student to be able to check out
books and read.  Do you ever let students who have extremely
overdue lost books come in and do "jobs" in your libraries?
 If so what would be some good types of work/help for them to do?
 Should I definitely communicate first with their parents and ask
permission for their children to "work off" the cost of their lost
 materials?  I think that the teachers in my school would be OK
with this arrangement if I chose an agreeable time."

Helpful replies:

Students who have books out from last year or for a lengthy
 time during this school year can check out paperbacks.  This
 still gives them the opportunity to read, but if they lose this book
 it will not be so expensive to replace (and then they cannot check
 out anymore).  I have the paperbacks close to the check-out
counter so they can easily get one if I need to tell them when
they get to the checkout counter that they still have another book

Hi, I am from a school near San Jose, CA.  It's a K-5 school
 in a relatively affluent area.  It seems as if I always end up with
 1-3 kids who have a book out and not paid for at the end of the
 year.  I wait until fall and send home notes about the fact that I
have tried repeatedly to get books or money for those books and
that the child will not be allowed to check out until we resolve the
 situation.  Some I end up forgiving if it's an old book to a usually
reliable patron.  Others I give up on if it's clear that the child is
from a very stressful situation.  I have never waited more that a
 few weeks into the year before either receiving money on a book
or giving up.

I guess I have a different philosophy.  I start every one out with a
clean slate each fall.  I run a list of the books still not returned
over the summer, then check them out to my client"old overdue"
and clear the student's record.  And, yes, sometimes the end of
the next year comes, and the same student now has another long
overdue book we won't get the money for.  I figure that if they owe
 me money, they probably also owe the school money for book
registration or something else, and this is just a family pattern.
 My check out policy does not allow students to have more than
three books out overdue.  If they get to that number, they are shut
off.  I don't have all that many who hold over from year to year, but
I do always have a few.  My ultimate feeling is that it is the
taxpayers who end up footing the bill.  If I cannot supply what the
students need because of unpaid overdues, it affects them a lot
 more than me.  If the school board doesn't feel it necessary to
go after the delinquent fee payers, I can't do it myself.  I try not
to spend too much energy worrying about things I have no
control over.  I have enough else to do to keep me busy.

Yes, I allow students to "work" off their books.  Not all families
 can afford the cost of some books, upwards of $15.00.  I credit
students 50 cents per recess/coke break they come in.  Yes,
 sometimes it takes 30 times. If they come in regularly and
show effort and desire to take responsibility, I'll let them check
a book out before their work is over, if not, they have to completely
work off the book before they get another.  jThey do dusting -
always needs.  I teach them to shelve books - my "E" are shelved
by just first letter of authors last name, so fairly easy for all to
shelve.  I will have them run errands, depending on grade.  And
yes, I will carry over from year to year, and if they don't make
any effort and particularly if they are heading to middle school,
they are kindly told in 8th grade, they will not "walk the line" if
all accounts in the school are not cleared - library, lunch, etc

I have let students in the past come in and work by shelving
easy books and straightening the shelves if they were a low-
income family and unable to pay for the books and I sent a
note home to the parents.  The others have to pay for their
books before they are able to check out a new one.

I would suggest that those kids be able to check out books
 but must keep them in the classroom and not take them home.
  Many schools also have a bin of donated or yard sale
paperbacks that these students can take.

If students in my school have long overdue books, I consider
them lost.  My assistant sends out a letter under my signature
to the parents/guardians with the price of the replacement cost
of the book.  Students are not permiitted to check out any
materials until they pay for the lost book.  If they find the book
and return it and the book is in good condition, they may then
check out books.  Otherwise, they have to pay. End of year
report cards are held until all fines are paid. Regarding having
students working off their fines - I think it would be difficult to
calculate how many hours a student should work to pay off a
$10, $15, or $20 book.

I have let them work off overdues.  But I also give them a one
time deal of being able to replace a book with one of their own
books.  Of course it has to be with the parents permission....

We do not charge fines for overdues in our ES library.  However
ES students who lose books must pay the replacement cost -
plus $3.00 for processiong and shipping.  ES students are not
given the option to work off their debt.
In the middle school (where I work), we charge fines for overdue
 materials.  We also charge a student to replace a book.  However,
in the MS and HS, students are given the opportunity to work off
their obligations.  We fit the task to the student.  Some students
can shelve books.  Other students can dust, physically straighten
books on the shelves, put magazines in order, water the plants,
emboss books, etc, I would have no idea of what an ES student
could do - relatively independently.

First off, mail a letter for the bill directly to the parents.  You
may get a response.  Second, then phone contact with the
parent about their ability to pay.  And let them know that you
would be willing to have the child pay off the debt at $XXX per
day (currently in my middle school is $.50/day).  Third draw
up a contract and have student sign it, principal/counselor sign
it, and you.  Fourth have "boring" work to do.  My boring work
 is to dust the shelves, washing down the tables and chairs,
and moving books when needed.  (I believe that many of the
students who miss recess need the physical activity as a
release of energy, so ALL of my jobs are active.) They are
NOT allowed to talk to friends who may be in for lunch recess.
 They have to be on-time, or it does not count.  It is their
job to sign the contract each time they have finished a day to
have it initialized that they were there.  Fifth, until the contract
is finished, they may ONLY check out a book to the teacher's
 assigned spot in the room.  It HAS to be returned on time to
 continue checking out to the room.

At our school, students with lost books or overdue fines at the
 end of each semester must pay before they receive their report
 card.  We feel that part of using the library is teaching the
students responsibility.  We have waived a few fines for
hardship, but, in general, the students pay.  We have very
few late and lost books as a result.

Our district has a Work Contract that can be filled out by the
student, principal, and the parent.  We credit the student with
$5 for every hour worked.  The work can be done in the library
 or elsewhere on campus.  I like having this option because
some kids really can't afford to pay for lost and/or damaged
 books.  The only problem with it is when a student just likes
 to stay after school in the lbrary.  We had a repeat offender
who would find her book right after working it off.  I talked to
her and told her that she couldn' work off any more books.
 She quit losing them.

This is a very tricky area.  The first year I was here, I had a student
check out two on the same topic (space aliens) and my usual
policy is one book per topic just because I never want to lose
 two on the same topic.  I should have stuck by my policy.
 I thought being a 6th grader, he would be responsible.  Silly
me.  The books disappeared and I got one story after another
from him.  He was an odd kid and frankly, though I don't
believe in aliens, I was beginning to wonder about him...<wink>.
 First, he just forgot (for several weeks).  Then, he thought his
brother had them.  Then, a "friend" that wasn't a friend
anymore had them.  Finally, I called his mother.  Never
could get her on the phone - always phone tag.  Then she
 decided that instead of paying for the books (about $23
each) she could find other similar books elsewhere for less
money. Excuse me???  I'm not about to let parents cheap
out and buy heaven-knows-what (especially when it come
to books on aliens!) to replace books by publishers that
have good reviews and library bindings!
Then she decided that he should work it off.  She wanted
him to work for the janitor during recess.  So how does
that help the library?  This sounds like a way to get free
books, doesn't it?  Keep in mind what you do for one
you may have to do for others if word gets around!  So
 said, no, he had to work it off in the library and I set a
certain number of days during recess he had to come in.
 Well, he did half the time (and was a very slow worker - it
was really more work for me) and then she decided it was
below his dignity.  His dad came in and paid for the books -
only not the full price - only half because he had worked half
off, even though it was 6 months after he had lost the books!
 The time I put into getting restitution from them was
 probably close to $50 minimum in my time.  Incidentally,
his dad showed up one day at the office and paid for his
entire science camp trip in cash, so the family had the
money.  I should have called the dad as soon as I
realized the mom was a dead-beat.
If you try this scheme, be sure the child really is genuinely
 financially strapped.  Some kids get free lunch and live a
good life with grandma, and they can afford paying, just
don't want to.  My daughter had a friend in elementary
school (back in the early 90s) who got free lunch (worth
$1) every day but got a $5 allowance every week from her
mom! My daughter didn't get that much from us and
couldn't understand why she had to work for hers.
 (She's now finishing college and is extremely good
with her finances -training and discipline paid off!).
An alternative would be having the child bring a new book
form home, but I don't recommend that either, because
you will get stuff you won't want and can't use, and the
next thing you know, every kid will want to do it.  I had one
parent send in 2 decrepit books from a 25 cent library
discard sale to replace a lost book and a nearly new damaged
book.  We finally got $5 to pay partially for one of the books
and after that we didn't allow her daughter (who was in the
special day class) to check out anymore.  I had other kids
that "lost" books intentionally and bring in old ones just
because the prior library aide allowed a swap for loss.  If
you accept a book in trade, not only do you usually get a
poor binding, but you still have to process and possibly
catalog the book.  It usually isn't worth it.
If you do anything, write out the terms and have them sign
 it in advance.  For example, if they do the work and then find
the book, you do not owe them any money back if they turn it
in (but maybe a new paperback from your book fair premiums
 would be a nice thank you).

Maud Ann Wilson
Library Media Specialist
Matthew Whaley School
Williamsburg, Va.

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