A proposed bill would tighten the grip on delinquent book borrowers by allowing Wisconsin public libraries to report them to collection agencies and police officials.
Proposed by Sen. Sheila Harsdorf, R-River Falls, the bill was passed by the Senate Committee on Elections and Local Government Tuesday. In an email to The Badger Herald, Harsdorf said the legislation provides libraries with methods to collect fines and reimbursement for overdue material on delinquent library accounts.
Harsdorf said current law protects the personal information of library patrons, preventing libraries from sharing information about them to third parties. Wisconsin Library Association Executive Director Plumer Lovelace said under the bill, public libraries can send personal information of delinquent borrowers to third parties, such as collection agencies, to retrieve the items borrowed.
“Public libraries no longer focus on just books and there is an added emphasis on laptops, iPads and other items,” Lovelace said. “Losing such materials racks up a large expense.”
Tana Elias, Madison Public Library digital services and marketing manager, said libraries pay collection agencies to remind borrowers to return any materials they take from the library. Materials that collection agencies recover are valued higher than the amount libraries pay to find them in the first place because overdue borrowers have to pay fines, Elias said.
Libraries are, however, allowed to engage with collection agencies only when borrowed items are valued higher than $50, Elias said.
Materials that are returned late or are lost prevent other library patrons from accessing them, Lovelace said.
“It is an inconvenience and unfair to all those people,” Lovelace said.
Lovelace said small, rural public libraries incur higher costs than larger libraries as they work with smaller budgets. These smaller budgets include an annual allocation to obtain new materials, but it is often spent replenishing a lost stock of books and laptops instead.
Elias said libraries, overall, lack the resources to conduct extensive searches to retrieve unreturned materials and find delinquent borrowers. Often, such borrowers move out of the library’s city, which makes it difficult to find them, Elias said.
“The most important thing to keep in mind is that libraries want to be frugal and good guardians or stewards of all the material we have in our building and everyone in our community must have a chance to access them,” Elias said.