In an effort to recoup about $200,000 worth of overdue materials, Athens-Limestone Public Library will be enforcing an ordinance that prescribes fines and the possibility of jail time.

City ordinance 93-1157 says it is unlawful for any person who has a library card to “fail or refuse to return” any materials borrowed or withdrawn from the public library. Any person who violates the ordnance may receive a fine of up to $100, be sentenced to a city jail term of 30 days or possibly both at the discretion of the municipal judge.

Library Director Paul Laurita said resorting to enforcing the ordinance was necessary because offenders are not only stealing from the library, but also from other library patrons and taxpayers.

“The taxpayers expect us to protect their investment,” she said. “We make every effort to be good stewards of public funds.”

She explained library would much rather have the overdue materials back than the associated fines. That's one reason why the library has offered programs in the past to help collect overdue materials or clean the slate in regard to fines.

There are some cases, Laurita said, in which a patron may have several hundred dollars worth of library materials. So how does this happen? At the library, a patron can check up to 25 items at one time. If each of those items has a retail value of $25, that's $625.

There are instances in which patrons may lose materials, but there are also situations in which materials get loaned to someone who doesn't have a library card and that person loses the materials.

“Sometimes we hear, 'I lent my library card to my cousin,'” Laurita said. “I just want to ask, 'Would you lend your cousin your credit card? If they go and get $700 worth of clothing and you're responsible for the bill, would you do that?' Some may say, 'It's just a library book,' but what if 300 basketballs went missing from the rec center? We're not doing this for us; we're doing it for the community.”

Prior warnings

The library automatically renews most materials twice, giving patrons more time to use them. Patrons may check their due date by calling the library and giving the library card number, or by accessing their account online. A book drop for returning materials when the library is closed is conveniently located for patron use.

Reminders are sent via email or text messaging to patrons when materials are due. An overdue notice is also sent and patrons have ample time to respond prior to receiving a bill.

The library works with Unique Management Services to recover overdue materials. A certified letter is sent to the patron. Laurita said it is only in “extreme cases” that the library has enforced the existing ordinance and believes it has only been used “once or twice” previously.

If the library wishes to pursue the matter legally, officials must file a complaint with the city's court administrator. If there is sufficient evidence of wrongdoing and the complaint is not more than a year old, a summons to appear is issued to the patron. If the patron fails to appear on his or her assigned court date, a failure to appear warrant is then issued.

Chief Floyd Johnson said patrons who decide to get squared away with the library need to find out if legal proceedings have begun. If the patron returns materials and pays fines but fails to notify the court, the patron may still face a failure to appear warrant if he or she fails to appear in court.

“It's been a good long while, but we've had people who have been picked up over overdue library books,” Johnson said.

Laurita was quick to point out the library would not be going after 5-year-olds who have overdue copies of “Clifford the Big Red Dog.” She explained only a small percentage of patrons do not return materials as agreed and that the policy would not affect the vast majority of patrons.

Athens-Limestone Public Library is open 47 hours per week, with most library services provided free. In addition to books and DVDs available for check-out, a large collection of eBooks and eAudiobooks are available for download.

For more information, visit www.alcpl.org or call 256-232-1233.