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Many of you requested that I post a HIT on this topic.  I received over 25 
responses with many wonderful suggestions.  Thanks so much to everyone who took the 
time to reply.  I really appreciate it!!

Mary Knopp, Library Media Specialist
The Academy of Mount St. Ursula
330 Bedford Park Boulevard, Bronx, NY  10458
Phone:  718-364-5353 x225

----- Original Message ----
From: Mary Knopp <knoppm@OPTONLINE.NET>
Sent: Tuesday, January 1, 2008 10:11:42 PM
Subject: Overdue fines in the high school library

I am concerned that by imposing fines our students are not returning their books at 
all because they do not have the money to pay these fines.   Often these students 
will send another student in to return their overdue books to avoid paying fines.

I also recently discovered that several new library books are missing.   It is 
puzzling to me why anyone would take a book out of the library without checking it 
out.  It occurred to me that perhaps these students had overdue books and knew they 
could not take out any more books until these books were returned.  

I am very interested in finding out how other high school libraries handle overdue 
books / fines.  My main concern is getting these books safely back to the library.  
I'm considering a "fine amnesty week" or a "read away your fines" program.  Has 
anyone had any such fine forgiving program?  Has this been viewed as unfair by 
other students who have paid their fines?  Will this result in students holding 
onto overdue books until the next "amnesty program" is announced?  

Also, if you are a school that doesn't impose fines, what incentive do students 
have to bring books back in a timely manner?  Do you still issue a due date for a 

I would appreciate any advice you have on this topic.  Thanks in advance!

Below are all the responses I received...

I had the same problem when I first started at the 7-12 school where I work. I 
found myself chasing kids down for fines and new books were missing.
I did a library fine amnesty week--it worked well. I got most of my books back. 
I decided that I would abolish fines. I rewrote the policy that if a student has a 
book outstanding and send out two overdues, then she gets a detention. Now, I allow 
students to return the books and will allow renewals, within reason, of course. 
Since I've started this, I haven't had nearly the problem with theft that I had the 
first year I worked here. 
Also, we have a policy that if a student doesn't return her materials, she does not 
get a report card or transcripts.
Abolishing fines has also increased our circulation. Students are more likely to 
borrow, knowing if they are a day or two late, we will not punish them.
This is a tough issue, no matter what your policy.  I agree with your observations 
about charging fines.  The results are unreturned books, delays until amnesty, or 
theft.  And sadly, those who abide by the rules will not check out more books.

At my 7-12 school (700 students), books circulate for 3 weeks.  We do NOT charge 
fines because of the difficulties associated with grace periods ("can't you just 
make it longer???), taking money and making change, and the simple fact that 
students return books and leave quickly, or have their friends return books, 
"return" them in the lost and found, or don't have the money with them, so having 
them pay later ("I never took that out.") is far more of a hassle.  Instead of 
fines, the office holds report cards for student who owe any fine (cafeteria, 
textbooks, etc).  The student either returns the book or pays the cost of the book. 
 Yes, we still have overdue books each year.  It may not be the "perfect" solution, 
but it's better for us.  Our theft is really low.  I would rather have students 
feel free to check out the books.  (And they do!)

This is what I know about high school fines after 10 years at my present high 
Students HATE fines that increase on a daily basis.  5 or 10 cents a day just made 
them resentful.  I fixed that four years ago by making ALL fines $1.00.  They are 
$1.00 when they are levied, and they stay $1.00 until they are paid.
The trick is to have a 20-school-day grace period.  Our books are due in 3 weeks 
(another adjustment--2 weeks was too short academically and practically).  Then 
they get one overdue notice a week.  They should get 3 notices before the $1.00 
fine kicks in.  They often don't get 3 notices because the teachers who pass out 
overdues aren't always as conscientious as I would hope. In any case, they have 20 
grace period--which means they have nearly 6 weeks of school before they are fined 
$1.00 for "extended use."
I remember one LM_NET posting that said police and librarians are the only people 
who impose fines on high school students.  That may not be strictly accurate, but 
it made me think.  I've tried to call them "extended use fees"  like Blockbuster, 
since then.  
Another policy that helps with fines:  they can still check out ONE item with a 
fine on their record.  Therefore, NO ONE can EVER say I didn't let them check out.  
The whole library is there for them to check out--not for me to collect fines.  
Since I'm charging fines, I have to make a sincere effort to let the students know 
they have a fine (or extended use fee).  Once a week I make sure the 3rd period 
teacher has fine notices in her box to distribute third period.  If she leaves them 
in her box, I TAKE them to her at 3rd period.  The next week, I put the notices out 
for the 4th period.  That way I'm alternating between 3rd and 4th period teachers.  
Surely one of them will be conscientious, and the kid will know she has fine.  
Since the fine isn't increasing, there isn't the urgency that daily increases would 
require. Last year I did this fine-notice jig with 2nd period A and 2nd period B 
classes. We got off the block schedule this year, so I had to make some changes.  
Another wrinkle in the fine policy:  I never collect more than $1.00.  If a kid has 
fines on several items, say $3.00 total, I collect $1.00 and give him a clear 
record.  I say something like "We're having a 3-for-1 sale today.  Give me a 
dollar, and you'll be all clear."  $1.00 clears their record.  I've never had 
anyone object to the deal. 
Also, I make sure that renewals are simple.  The only limit on renewals is for a 
book on hold.  Otherwise a student can renew as many times as necessary.  Sometimes 
we have to have a little chat about how necessary a renewal is, but it never hurts 
to talk to students about their reading and habits.  
Finally, I have to make sure all fines are paid before we go home for Christmas and 
at the end of May.  At those times, our exemption policy says that a student canNOT 
be exempt unless he meets attendance standards and grade standards, and HE IS ALL 
CLEAR IN THE LIBRARY.  The fine payments really roll in, as any student will gladly 
pay $1.00 to get out of an exam and staying at school.  
In a pinch, I let students "read off" a fine at the rate of $2.00 an hour.  In that 
case I levy the whole fine obligation.  This last semester I had 3 students read 
off their fines in 30 minutes each on an exam day--an exam they were going to have 
to take anyway.  (If they have exams to take anyway, I require them to come to the 
library as soon as they finish their exam.  The teachers are delighted to get them 
out of class, and I get to have a serious talk with them.  Most cases bring their 
overdue books and pay their fines the next day to avoid another day in the 
library--with no computer access--after exams.) 
The tricky thing, as you pointed out, is that, if students see fines as punitive 
and resentment builds because of them, they will steal to avoid the hassle.  I have 
5 students that I turned over to our assistant principal who didn't turn in or 
renew their library books before Christmas--and who did not come to the library 
after exams (in 3 of the 5 cases, they didn't show up for exams either.)  He was 
telling me how he is going to "come down on them" when the new semester starts.  I 
thanked him for his support, and then I pointed out that they will just start 
stealing, and they'll tell their friends, and they'll steal too.  He was 
astonished. It is a delicate business to make the correction without building 
resentment.  I think he can do, and I'll remind him about the "reading off" 
One more "trick":  the students can see what their fine money is used for.  I used 
to joke with classes, what did you think I did with fine money? Go to Mexico for a 
high-heeled good time?  They would always chuckle.  I use each $1.00 that comes in 
as fine money as part of our reading incentive program.  When a student reads a 
Texas Tayshas book (a list from our Texas Library Association each year), he gets a 
golden dollar--one of those gold dollar coins with Presidents or Sacajawea on it.  
I take their paper dollar, turn it into a golden dollar and give it to a reader of 
a good book.  They see their fine money turning  into "gold" and going back out.  
Everyone loves that.  I've given out $578 this last semester. That is a lot of good 
We don't have a protection system at our high school, and I tell the students I'm 
proud of it and them because we don't have much stolen each year.  (We have 497 
students this year, and we will have less than 50 items stolen each year.  That is 
about $500 worth of stuff, but a protection system costs $12,000, and it doesn't 
stop serious thieves. I don't go into all that with the students.)  My one rule to 
prevent thievery is that I don't rebuy anything that comes up missing.  If a 
student steals an item, she has stolen it from everyone, and it will not magically 
reappear unless she brings it back.  It is hard to enforce this rule sometimes when 
a popular book disappears, but I really hate it when I rebuy a book, like I used to 
after a year of missing in action, and it reappears, and they do reappear. I talk 
about stealing with the freshman, mostly bragging on the other classes that have 
gone before them and left a legacy of honesty and a terrific library for them to 
use these next four years and leave as their legacy.  I usually mention that 
stealing from library is REALLY STUPID because everything is free anyway, checkout 
is simple (be sure that checkout is simple and pretty much self-service), and 
stealing from a library will send you to hell (that gets their attention, that and 
a mention of the 10 Commandments).  No one wants to go to hell for a library book. 
On that note I'll close.  I hope you can find something useful in this dissertation 
about fines.  I think fines are necessary because we are teaching them to use 
public libraries, and public libraries WILL fine 'em if they don't play by the 
rules when they are grown.  I never charged fines as an elementary or junior high 
librarian, but high school is time to step up and be personally responsible.  
I do not charge fines.  It is too much trouble to nickel and dime students.  I have 
a HUGE theft problem so I do not want to do anything to discourage kids from 
actually checking out the books.  Most of my readers return their books in a timely 
manner.  I do pass out overdue notices once a month (if I have time).  This gets a 
lot of books back.  

I do not feel fine amnesty weeks are fair to the students who pay the fines when 
they owe them.  About amnesty - My principal and I discussed this several years 
ago.  We decided that if you do it once the students will wait until that week or 
month comes around to return books. It is better to just work hard at getting them 
back everyday. 

Our system is programmed to send the notices to the second block teacher. 
Unfortunately I have some teachers who just will not get with the program and pass 
them out. I send out a heads up to the teachers and still I see the notices in 
teacher mailboxes weeks later. This makes me nuts!

About 9 years ago I convinced the principal and county that we should collect 
fines. I did get the end of the year count of checked out books to 47! The next 
year the county attorneys said that there would be no fines. (Probably for many of 
the reasons you mentioned.) I now make a concerted effort to let the students know 
when the return date is and encourage them to return books. I also limit them to 
one book as long as another book is overdue. I make a big deal about being able to 
take out more than one book at a time.(We can not really block them - and I seem to 
be getting the books back eventually) We do almost always carry an overdue log of 
about 350 books - for 1800 students. I find that most distressing but there is not 
much I can do. 

This year the county has instituted a program that displays long overdue books of 3 
months or more and places a block (warning) along with the cost of the book (this 
includes other schools in the county!). This becomes part of the student's 
permanent record and will be seen by parents - if they can or choose to go into the 
programs that display their child's grades and other info. Financial obligations 
can also be seen by perspective colleges. We also do not let seniors attend any 
senior event, including walking across stage at graduation, if there are any 
obligations that are owed. 

Sorry this is so long, but when I started to research this subject I would have 
liked the input.  I have been collecting fines every year.  The year we move into 
the new building I did not get set up to collect fines so I did not.  I ran 20-30 
ages of over dues every time I ran a fine list.  The year before and the year after 
I ran 20-30 pages of over dues and I was charging fine.  If I am going to have to 
deal with getting books back then the library is going to profit.  I allow students 
to check out even if they have overdues or fine.

I want a student to have a book.  I tell them to check the book in to stop the fine 
going up.  I don't care if they carry the over due until school is out.  I always 
collect because if they don't clear then spend the last day in the library working 
the fine off instead of in the fun activities.  

Before I arrived on the scene, my school had a policy of no schedule for the next 
semester if there were outstanding library fines or lunchroom bills, and no walking 
at graduation if there were fines/lunch fees outstanding.  We do cut deals and 
encourage kids to renew books but still have fines.  They will all be in to pay 
next week--students come back on Monday--and they won't be allowed to attend until 
fines are paid.  This is my first year here and I am the 'junior' librarian (even 
though I'm older and have a master's instead of an endorsement) so I will be 
interested to see how this works.  I have been told they pay up, even though we are 
officially classified a low income school. 
I too struggle with this issue.  I would love to hear the suggestions you get.  My 
trouble isn't so much with books not being returned, but just getting students to 
pay fines.  It is ridiculous how much paper and time I waste on overdue notices and 
then get such a pitiful return for the work.  However, I do not want to remove the 
fine because as you said what is the incentive to return books and how does 
removing the fine help instill responsibility.  

One 'trick' I just recently tried for the first time was offering up to $.50 off 
their fines if the student paid in full.  This did get a few students in the 
library on their own that day so it may be something I continue.  I like the idea 
of read away the fines - please email or post a hit!!
I have never charged fines in my library because I think that it fosters borrowing 
without checkout. We are very liberal and rely on our students' sense of 
responsibility. We send overdue notices out once a month and if a book is not 
returned, a bill letter to the parent the next month. When a class comes in for 
research or books of choice for English, we (the teachers and I) agree on a due 
date. The teacher then holds grades on the project until the books are returned. We 
really don't have a problem. I tend to trust the kids and they respect me for doing 
that. We renew books for them until they are done with them, also.  Good luck. I 
hope your amnesty day works. I would say that it's a one time only, especially if 
you change your policies.
We do not have fines so there is absolutely no incentive to return a book that is 
months overdue, especially if you are required to have a book with you for free 
reading. Those who don't read, just carry the book around ( often the most popular 
ones that were recommended by friends) and after two or three months, the bookmark 
is on page 30 or so. Or they thought the book was good and lent it to a friend and 
then to another friend mostly because they know that there is a hold on the book 
and others are/have been waiting for it. When these books are finally returned they 
are often in very poor shape, dirty, backs broken, showing signs of being wet (or 
still wet)  I've tried limiting checkouts to two or three at the most but nearly 
always cave in when I have a kids who is a slow reader tell me he had only two more 
chapters to read to finish the book. I don't think that fines would make a 
difference because we are not talking a lot of money unless that have to replace 
the book and the few cases where there is a problem of that kind are worked out 
with the dean of students.
That said here is what we do. If you have an overdue: you may not check out any 
more materials and you may not use the library computers until the book is returned 
or renewed. The loss of the computers is the biggie here. Can't use the "I don't 
have money to pay the fine" excuse and if your class is down in the library to type 
papers or use a specific website you can't do your work. This may sound harsh but 
here is the kicker. The teachers are behind this 100%. They will even go so far as 
to make a not fun alternative to what is being done (hand write your final draft 
etc.) They will let kids go back to their rooms or lockers for books, let them know 
in advance that they are going to the lab and generally back the policy completely. 
I have an agreement with the teacher that if they ( the teacher) wishes to have the 
student on the computer in spite of overdues, the teacher will let me know. Think 
that may have happened twice in over five years. We are trying to teach 
responsibility to young adults and this is one way to do it. It is amazing how they 
are able to find a book once they can't get on a computer! Since we check out 
computers to the kids the same way we do books, the system will flag overdues. I am 
flexible about books due yesterday but not beyond that and the free pass from the 
teacher only works for that day. Kids are so used to it know that when they hear 
the sound an overdue makes they don't even ask, just go look for the book ( which 
often they are carrying with them. ) What drives me crazy is the "I didn't know 
when it was due " excuse since the due date it in the front of the book, we usually 
mention it when we hand the book to them and they have watched us stamp the date!!!
This works fairly well for us but I still have books out that were due in October. 
( I also carry over from the previous year if I book is check out at the end of the 
year and not returned) 
I tried having a "blue light special" during which all fines would be forgiven. 
Unfortunately, it did result in some students hanging on to books for an 
extraordinarily long time waiting for the next blue light special. I do know what 
you are worried about with regard to students simply taking books because they know 
they won't be allowed to check them out. This does happen to me sometimes. However, 
I am convinced that sometimes students simply forget to check them out as I 
frequently get books returned that are not checked out. And some of the more 
popular books, I hate to say, are simply stolen. I refuse to buy any more copies of 
A Child Called It because they disappear so often. What we are doing this year 
seems to be working the best of anything: Students with excessively overdue books 
have their computer access denied. I send out notices when the books are 3 weeks 
past due and tell the students that they have a week to get the books in or lose 
computer use. They usually come in with the books. That said, I haven't yet been 
able to determine if this process is resulting in more students taking books. Once 
the books have been returned, I reinstate the students' computer privileges, but 
the fines remain. I am pretty easy to deal with on fines. Anything 50 cents or 
lower (fines are a nickel a day) I forgive. And I am not adverse to deal making. If 
a student has a fine of, say $1.40, and they have a dollar on them, I will take a 
dollar and call it good. I have even had students work off fines in the library. 
When I forgive a fine, I make a point of telling them that I am forgiving this fine 
because I know they won't let it happen again. I do like the idea of the read away 
a fine. I may have to give that a try.
It is indeed never-ending.  Here's what we do:
NOTIFICATION: Every week or so a list goes to the student's homeroom. Individual 
slips are sent usually, not lists.  We alternate weeks though: every other week (or 
so) an email is sent to parents. The emails are working pretty well with 
responsible parents! BUT I do try not to hound the parents too often because a few 
will tell their boys NOT to use our library!!! Our middleschoolers are MUCH better 
than our HS students.
FINE LOWERING:  We charge HALF fines for most students who come in and meet their 
responsibilities in a timely, friendly manner. This does seem to help! I HAVE HEARD 
THAT AMNESTY DAYS do cause difficulties as you have mentioned.
DATE DUE SLIPS:  If a student asks, we will print a slip for him! But each day I 
have posted a small sign that says: THREE-WEEK MATERIALS CHECKED OUT TODAY ARE 
This works well enough because I've been doing this for many years, and our 
frequent users know. Also, the frequent users know how to check their own record of 
materials and due dates through our catalog!

Our school is small. I know just about everyone. One BAD thing is that our 
Headmaster doesn't really allow us to stop SENIORS from graduating or even bill 
them, so four or five seniors leave with big fines and sometimes a few books. This 
is not widespread though.
I have heard that some librarians allow students to work off fines in some positive 
way. And which sounds better to me: some allow students to bring in canned goods 
for shelters or food banks! I may try the canned goods thing....I've been meaning 
to try it.

Once I eliminated fines, and had a happy, nonjudgmental checkout, I found that I 
didn't have stolen or too many overdue books.  The students knew that I wasn't 
angry, and that they could get their money back when they found a lost book.
At my previous school we had fines. Here we don't. I haven't really noticed any 
difference in return rates 

Without fines there really isn't all that much incentive to return materials. I 
send out overdue notices the first school day of each week, and most kids 
cooperate. I have some books that have been out since August in spite of weekly 
notices, letters home, and even phone calls.  Our only real "hold" on kids is that 
anyone with anything outstanding can't walk across the stage for graduation.

Since you are in a private school, you can use the system that we developed at my 
previous school. There, we required a final exam in every class, and that final had 
to be worth at least 10% of the semester grade. Anyone with any outstanding bills 
was not permitted to take finals until all bills were paid. That included library 
fines, tuition payments, etc. The business office was inundated with money the last 
couple of weeks before finals!
I would build things into your budget - build in "theft" and reorder the books.  I 
would also look into the purchase of a surveillance system with signs posted that 
premises are protected by camera surveillance... And you can have an amnesty window 
where you offer a flat rate of say 25 cents - or free if you prefer.   I would not 
do this that often.  Good Luck!
Up until last year, I was in a high school serving grades 9-12 with about 1400 
kids. I'm still at the same school -- just a different job. My predecessor didn't 
charge fines and I continued the practice. I felt it would be more hassle than it 
was worth. However, there were/are still consequences for having late books: 

1. No more books can be checked out until the overdue ones are returned.
2. We have laptops available for student use in the library. These have to be 
checked out. No laptop can be checked out if there are overdue books. (There are 
desktop computers available for kids to use, so computer access is not being 
3. We do have due dates -- 3 weeks. Notices are sent weekly to their seminar 
4. If books aren't returned at the end of the year, we do have a program in Kansas 
that allows us to garnish state tax return for the cost of school-owned materials. 
This applies not only to library books but to text books and other classroom 
materials also. 

We donít charge fines but do not check out books if the student has an overdue 
item. We do charge for lost books. If the student does not pay, he/she does not 
participate in the graduation ceremony.
I've heard of HS/MS doing a food for fines thing... i.e.  can of food, box of 
pasta, etc, for every $1.00 or 25 cents or whatever of fines.  items donated to 
local food pantry.   Would be good Feb/March -- when the food pantries usually 
experience a drop in donations (after the Thanksgiving/Xmas donation rush -- but 
people need to eat all year long!)
Long ago, someone misappropriated funds in our school, so no one can take money 
except the front office - for anything.  We are a huge school, so it makes field 
trips and all that - really fun.... So we don't do fines at all, and if a book is a 
month overdue, I send them a bill for the book.  That gets their attention unlike 
the four overdue notices - one per week - and the books come right back.  We don't 
have too many problems.
We don't have fines.  We do have due dates.  We also send out overdue notes.  
Students don't get their report cards if they haven't returned their books.
The 3 high schools in our district do not charge overdue fines.  Books, and audio, 
are due 2 weeks from the checkout date; I stamp the date due slips in each as a 
reminder.  Students may have up to 3 items out at a time.

Our recourse is a district policy that says if a student owes money for charged 
lunches, missing/damaged textbooks, or overdue/missing/damaged library books then 
the student will not be able to get their report card for the grading period until 
the problem is taken care of.  I generally deliver overdue notices every 3 weeks on 
brightly colored paper (everyone else uses white) to the homeroom classes.  Two 
days before report cards come out I give a "hold up" list of students still owing 
books to the office.  Then when the report cards are printed out the "hold up" ones 
are pulled, whether for lunches, textbooks or library.   When the student returns 
the book(s), or pays for it, I give them a note to give the office so they can get 
their report card.  

This district policy was put in place because many of our students are from 
low-income families (49% free or reduced lunch).  If necessary, the student can pay 
off the lost book in installments.  It works for us.

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