Friday, October 19, 2007
Pomona Prickle Award of the Month
I am sad to say that this month's winner is the Pomona Public Library. Up until this week, I have only enjoyed the wonderfulness of the place -- mostly in the form of children's librarian Miss Lois. Remember, that she does her thang for Pomona's lucky prechoolers every Tuesday at 10:15 a.m.. The library has added two other storytimes (sans Miss Lois) on Wednesday (for babies) and Thursday (for toddlers) mornings.
That said, here's the ouch: Yesterday I received an outstanding balance bill with regard to two children's books that I turned in late. Both books were due on October 4, 2007 and I was a bad bad citizen and didn't return them until this week. The notice said that I owed $5.50. No problem, I think, I will pay it the next time we go to the library. But, upon closer inspection, I read that: "Accounts not paid will be turned over to a Collection Agency in 14 days with additional fees." Huh? Over a $5.50 late fee that I incurred this week?
What bothers me about the notice is this:
1. The notice does not give a reasonable amount of time to pay the debt. Most library books are checked out for three week periods. This notice only gives a family two weeks to pay the debt. Most families, like me, would plan to pay the notice when next they went to the library. But, if that is in three weeks, then the $5.50 fee would have already gone to collection agency and one's credit has been dinged. If you are a family struggling to buy a first home, for instance, that credit ding could make all the difference in the world.
2. Libraries provide a valuable function for children, especially those from disadvantaged families. But disadvantaged families will be the first to stop going to the library as a result of this cut-throat policy. It would only take one $5.50 fee going to collections to make most families stop using the library. Frankly, even getting one of these notices will make families living on the financial edge gun shy about checking books out of the library. The fact is that kids are kids and they often temporarily misplace books. I only have one child and am a bit of a neat freak and we've misplaced a few books for weeks at a time.
3. With all this talk about the children and family master plan in Pomona, I would think basic funding for the library would be a no brainer, a given. If the library needs to go after people who only owe $5.50, then things must be pretty hard up there.
When I mentioned the pay or die notice to a friend, the friend was only too happy to vent about how they had actually had a $35 debt from the Pomona Library go to collections recently. They noted that a collection agency out of one of the Covinas handled the collection. A collection agency who appears to be making money off the backs of Pomona people. They believed that it may be an indication that the Pomona Library is perhaps going the way of privatization, and thus the fees collection (and the library) are now being seen as a potential money maker for an outsider. This friend said that their family will no longer be using the Pomona Public Library. I'm not there yet, but how sad.
When I called the library to talk to someone about this issue, I could not get a live person.
An interesting read on the drawbacks of the privatization of public libraries can be found here.
And a very conclusive history of free public libraries can be found at the straightdope.com