Library Hires Book Cops

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Jul 3, 2005, 1:51:48 PM7/3/05
Library bringing in hired guns
Collection firm to hunt missing items worth $3M

By Cindi Andrews
Enquirer staff writer

The Enquirer/ Sarah Conard

Bill Sanders (left), Mike Bullett, Josh McCoy and Pete Hauer sort items
not on the collection list.

If you've been waiting for an amnesty day to turn over that video you
found under your car seat six months after it was due, you've been waiting
in vain. The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County hasn't had a
no-questions-asked materials return period since the 1980s and it's not
going to have one now, library officials say.

Items more than five years overdue have been wiped out of the system, so
you don't have to sweat the book you lost during your long-ago

However, if you went AWOL with any items within the past five years you
might as well get them - and your wallet - and head to your local branch.

The fine for all videos and DVDs is $2 per day per title. The fine for all
other adult materials, including books and compact discs, is 20 cents a
day per title. Children's books, compact discs and other materials are 5
cents a day apiece.

The total fine for any item now tops out at $10 unless you don't return it
at all, in which case you owe the full value of the item. If you have a
really good excuse for your tardiness, Circulation Services Manager Paul
Burch said, the librarian might reduce your fine. That trick will only
work once, however.

The person who borrowed the DVDs of "Mystic River," "Dodge Ball" and
"Catch Me If You Can" from the Hamilton County library and never returned
them - and you know who you are - had best bring back those and other
overdue library materials now.

The delinquent borrower has racked up $1,100.50 in fines and fees for
materials returned late or not at all, according to spokesman Richard

That's the biggest bill of the 2,337 overdue accounts the Public Library
of Cincinnati and Hamilton County will send to a collection firm Tuesday -
the first time the library has used an outside agency.

The library hired Unique Management Services, a Jeffersonville, Ind.-based
agency that specializes in collecting for libraries, to track down some of
the 200,000 books and other items that are overdue at any given time. The
value of the missing items tops $3 million.

Nationwide, Unique brings in about $4 worth of fees and returned materials
for libraries for every $1 libraries pay, it said.

"If it increases (the library's) income, it would be good," Denise Bien,
50, of Groesbeck, said as she perused home-improvement books at the Main
Library. "Also, people would turn their books in more."

Officials say it's important to reclaim materials and collect fines
because this is its fourth year of flat or reduced funding. The library
gets 95 percent of its money from the state, and narrowly escaped another
5 percent cut in its $46 million annual allotment.

Circulation Services Manager Paul Burch estimates that less than 10
percent of items checked out are returned late, and perhaps 5 percent of
the library's 9.5 million patrons are responsible for those.

The library will continue to send reminders via e-mail or automated phone
call when items are overdue.

Accounts won't be turned over to Unique until the value of fines and late
items tops $25 and items are 60 days late. The library is paying Unique
$8.95 per account, to be covered by a $10 fee tacked onto each delinquent
account. Unique will report people to credit agencies after 180 days if
all else fails.

"Maybe this will encourage the formation of good habits," Executive
Director Kim Fender said, who admits even she returns items late


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