Outrageous overages: Library fines surprise some students who will do anything to get out of paying up

Tom Grant

The librarians who work behind the circulation desk at the University Library have heard plenty of outrageous stories from cash-strapped students over the years.

“A few years ago, a student asked me if he could pay his library fine off (it was just under $20) with $5 worth of lottery tickets,” said Suzette Radford, head of circulation services for University Library. “We declined his offer.”

But librarians want students to know that they’re not banking off your late books, which rack up charges of 10 cents per day after the due date.

“We’re just interested in getting the books back,” said Sharon Smith, billing and fines assistant for the library.

Smith stressed that students should understand the library’s policy for overdue fees, or face costly consequences.

Meli Loeppert, a Weinberg junior who works at the circulation desk, has seen what can happen when students let overdue book fees pile up.

“With some of these grad students, it gets insane,” she said.

Even though most fines are minimal, there are some horror stories — just ask Medill sophomore Meaghan Owens, who rang up $20 for two books she returned late to the Core Collection.

“Even though there are signs, I don’t think they should be charging that much,” she said, referring to the library’s policy that charges $5 for every day a Core book is overdue. “I think it’s ridiculous. I had to put that on my tuition tab.”

But for every horror story, librarians are quick to point out that students are given ample notice about their tardy tomes.

Overdue notices are sent out by e-mail the first day that the item is past due, Radford explained. The e-mail also provides a link so that students may renew the book online.

“We’re seeing more and more online renewals,” Radford said.

So how many bucks is Northwestern raking in from students’ late books?

The library collected $35,544 in overdue book fees and replacement costs last year, Radford said. The previous year, the library collected $41,480.

These figures put NU in line with other schools such as Northern Illinois University, which collected $37,552 in late fees this fiscal year, according to the school’s student newspaper, the Northern Star.

Patricia Strait, NU’s director of library public relations, said increased use of the Internet to renew books has led to a drop in fees collected between the past two fiscal years.

“They’ve always been really nice about it. They even send me an e-mail saying (the book) is late,” said David Klaus, a McCormick senior. “I just pay the 30 cents or whatever. They’ve never charged me that much.”

Librarians stressed that the fees collected from overdue books are small when compared with how much NU spends to buy books.

“The total acquisitions budget is in the 10 million-per-year range,” Strait said. “$37,000 is a drop in the bucket.”

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