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[BKARTS] Debt collectors go after overdue books
Debt collectors go after overdue books
Mon Jun 28, 6:31 AM ET
By Ellen Hale, USA TODAY
Don't hold onto that library book, or it could cost you your credit rating.
As public libraries face declining or static funding and rising costs
for books, a growing number are turning to stronger tactics to track
down overdue material. Ignore the traditional overdue notice, and you
may hear from a debt-collection agency.
"It's an idea we wish we didn't have to do, but we don't have the
money to replace books and materials and buy new materials as well,"
says Pat Anderson, administrator at the Newport News (Va.) Public
Library System. So starting July 1, library patrons with materials
more than 45 days overdue will have their account turned over to a
Many libraries across the country are resorting to the tactic - with
surprising success. Unique Management Services, a collection agency
based in Jeffersonville, Ind., says nearly 600 libraries now use its
services to locate tardy materials. About 70% of the people respond
when contacted by the company, says Kenes Bowling, manager of
If the company's first letter is ignored, a second letter warns that
refusing to return the material - or pay for it - may be noted on
their credit report. "It's from a third party, and that's the
difference," Bowling says. "It gently puts the fear of God in them."
While fewer than 1% of library patrons are usually responsible for
overdue books and materials, the stakes are big. Over the past five
years, the Newport News library has lost $400,000 in books, CDs,
videos and DVDs. The annual budget for new materials that can be
checked out is about $400,000, Anderson says.
The budget at New York's Queens Borough Public Library - considered
the country's busiest library with 16.9 million items circulating
last year - has declined $14 million the past two years, according to
spokesman Joe Catrambone. As a result, new acquisitions have gone
down 40%. The budget is expected to be increased this year, he says.
The library was one of the company's first clients. When it
contracted with Unique Management in 1996, it presented a list of
overdue materials valued at $10 million. It recovered $7.3 million in
books and cash reimbursement, Catrambone said.
"The value of this service is exponential. It's not the $20 book we
get back. It's the $20 book times all the people who will read it
after it is returned," Catrambone says. "Often these are books you
can't replace because they are no longer published or are out of
print. It preserves the integrity of your collection."
Unique Management charges libraries $8.95 for each person with
overdue materials. In addition to charging the patron for the late
fee or cost of the overdue item, libraries usually tack on a
processing fee. Libraries notify the company the day a patron is
overdue. Within a day, the company contacts the errant patron.
The best excuse for an overdue book? Unique Management held a contest
among its client libraries. The winner claimed he did not return a
book because it was the perfect size to put under the leg of a wobbly
dining room table.
While threatening scofflaws with a black mark on their credit rating
sounds tough, library officials maintain their approach is gentle
enough that it doesn't offend patrons - and keeps them coming back.
"It's important we get the material back without turning off the
public," says Catrambone of the Queens library. "We don't want the
repo man banging on the door yelling 'Give me back that best seller.'
"Oh boy, sleep! That's where I'm a Viking!" - Ralph Wiggum (The Simpsons)
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