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Hillsborough County library fines to double

TAMPA — Librarians in Hillsborough County are growing tired of how long you're taking to return your books.

So tired, in fact, that they're hoping an extra pinch in borrowers' wallets will provide enough of an incentive to pay better attention to due dates.

As of Tuesday, late fees across the county will double, rising from 10 cents to 20 cents per day in what library officials say is the first increase in fines in a decade.

Library officials insist they don't intend to make any extra money off the added fines. They just want to cut down on lost and overdue materials.

"We're trying to encourage people to return their books sooner," said David Wullschleger, operations manager for the library system. "It's not about revenue at all."

Hillsborough libraries net about $500,000 in annual revenue from overdue fines, but officials are not banking on making anything more once the fees increase.

"You really can't say, we're doubling the fines, you can double the revenue estimate," Wullschleger said. "It just depends on people's choices."

Not that the library would complain if it makes an extra few dollars. Facing budget cuts, the library system said in May that it would soon withdraw from a long-standing arrangement in which its libraries shared materials for free with borrowers from neighboring counties.

The move, which is planned to take effect by autumn, will save the county almost $100,000 annually. Libraries in Hillsborough County were devoting an increasing amount of staff time serving residents in Pasco County, who checked out more than 100 books in Hillsborough libraries for every book checked out by a Hillsborough resident in Pasco libraries.

The decision to withdraw was met with disappointment — out-of-county residents would now need to pay $100 annually to borrow from Hillsborough libraries — but librarians elsewhere said if the situation were reversed, they would have made the same decision, too.

The same can be said for the latest change. Library officials said initial feedback suggests that patrons are disappointed by the fee increase, especially as everything else in life — from gasoline to groceries — seems to get more expensive by the day. But they seem to understand the rationale.

Indeed, the new fines didn't bother Derwin Bozeman, 50, of Tampa, who was surfing the Web last week at the John F. Germany Public Library in downtown Tampa. Bozeman didn't know of the impending change, but when told of it, he was unfazed.

"Better that than have the library close up," he said.

The library system decided to raise its fees after a performance audit concluded that, with nearly 9-million items checked in and out annually, it needed to take steps to reduce its collection's exposure to loss.

The new fines will move the library more in line with overdue charges in other Tampa Bay area libraries. Compared to libraries elsewhere, the dime-a-day fines here have been something of a steal. In Pasco, for instance, an overdue book runs a quarter a day in fines.

The Hillsborough library system could not provide statistics on what fraction of borrowed items tend to wind up lost or overdue, but Wullschleger said the issue has for years been a thorn in the libraries' collective side.

"To use a bad pun, it was long overdue to take a look at the fines and fees," he said.

So will the increased fines make a difference? They're not really sure what to expect, but librarians around the county are hopeful.

"You've got to admit, it is a factor in people's psychology," said Armand Ternak, the director of the Temple Terrace Public Library. "If they think the fines are going up, they will be more careful."

And that's all that matters to people like Andrew Breidenbaugh, the chief librarian at John F. Germany Public Library.

Breidenbaugh has a simple response for people who are irked at the increased charges. With just a pinch of punctuality, Breidenbaugh reminds, "every single fine or fee is 100 percent avoidable."

Thomas Kaplan can be reached at (813) 226-3404 or [email protected]

Hillsborough County library fines to double 06/29/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 1, 2008 4:57pm]
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