Overdue library books could ding your credit score
Melvin Forderer of Dilworth, Minn., pauses Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2011, to look at the food collection site in the Moorhead Public Library. The library is crediting patrons $2 towards late fees for each donated food item. Starting January 1 the Lake Agassiz Regional Library will turn over its most delinquent borrowers to a material recovery service. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
Get books back on time
MOORHEAD - Overdue library books will soon cost more than guilt here, when the Moorhead Public Library partners with a collection agency for help Jan. 1.
The Moorhead library - which is part of the Lake Agassiz Regional Libraries, or LARL, system - is partnering with Unique Management, an agency that specializes in recovering overdue materials and fines for libraries.
"It's a trial. What we really want is the materials back, not necessarily the money," said Anne Fredine, assistant regional library director for LARL.
However, unpaid fines and materials could add up to a negative credit score for some users. Unique Management will eventually report delinquencies to national credit agencies.
Fredine said the need to resort to an outside agency for help was compounded by not only a high amount of missing materials, but replacement of books and DVDs is becoming more and more difficult.
"Books are going out of print faster than they ever have, even popular ones," Fredine said. She added the missing materials are often the most popular. More DVDs are lost than books, she said.
Marketing Director Janelle Brandon said about 2 percent of customers are in overdue status.
"That doesn't mean that all overdue accounts will be sent to Unique Management for material recovery," Brandon said.
LARL charges a flat late fee of $2 per item after 14 days. However, after 21 days, replacement fees are billed to customers, which start at $30 per item.
Fredine said there are customers who have racked up more than $1,000 in fines. She said it can be easy to do if several items are checked out at once and none is returned.
Regardless of how long an item is overdue, if it is returned in reasonable condition, the replacement fees are removed and the amount due drops back down to $2 per item.
Fredine said a book can easily be misplaced or mistaken for one's own property. Even she has fallen victim to that: During a major home renovation, one of the books she checked out was misplaced for weeks.
"People don't have to feel embarrassed," Fredine said. "See, it happens to the best of us, or the worst of us, depending on your point of view."
LARL plans to forward accounts to Unique Management for collection after 60 days, at which time Unique will follow up with letters and calls to customers.
If customers still do not return the materials or pay up, the debt can then be reported to national credit bureaus.
Turning to a collection agency for help with overdue materials is nothing new for libraries. Unique Management contracts with more than 1,400 libraries around the world.
At the Fargo Public Library, Deputy Director Beth Postema said the library has partnered with a collection agency for about 15 years. They have used Unique Management and currently partner with Red River Collections.
Postema said the partnership has been successful; the library saw a drop in overdue items immediately.
Currently, Fargo sends accounts of $150 or more to its collection agency.
"It's really trying to collect the replacement costs. (If items are returned) the billed costs come off the item. We are more interested in getting the copies back," Postema said.
The West Fargo Library does not currently partner with a collection agency, but that may change.
Library Director Sandra Hannahs said the library has a responsibility to taxpayers and the public to get missing materials back to the library.
"We don't look at it as a money-making venture, but we feel like the public is providing funds for materials, so they have the right to get those back," Hannahs said.
Fredine said LARL is still considering what threshold fines will need to reach before accounts are sent to Unique Management. She said accounts with balances upward of $100 are likely to be referred after Jan. 1.
In the meantime, LARL customers have a chance for amnesty. The Food for Fines program allows users to drop off an unexpired, non-perishable food item in exchange for a $2 fine waiver through the end of the year.
"People are definitely taking advantage of it and liking it," said Liz Lynch, acting Moorhead hub supervisor.
About 350 items have been collected so far, Lynch said. The food will be donated to the Dorothy Day House in Moorhead and the Fill the Dome project.
"Basically, it's we want the stuff back more than the money, actually," Fredine said. "and people don't have to be embarrassed. They can always drop them off in the book drop outside in the dead of night."
The Lake Agassiz Regional Library system serves seven area counties and operates branch libraries in Ada, Bagley, Barnesville, Breckenridge, Climax, Crookston, Detroit Lakes, Fertile, Fosston, Hawley, Mahnomen and McIntosh.
Fargo library fees
Most books and reading materials: 10 cents per item/day
DVDs, software and video games: 50 cents per day/item
Replacement costs are billed after an item is six weeks overdue.
$2 per item after 14 days
Replacement bills are charged after 21 days overdue.
West Fargo fees
Books: 10 cents per day/item
DVDs: $1 per day/item
Readers can reach Forum reporter Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530