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EDITOR'S DESK: On the library ending overdue-book penalties

By Kenyon Jordan

Jan. 30, 2018
       Welcome to “Are You Kidding Me?” - a feature that honors the latest stupid idea that comes across our desk. Or should we call it “mentally challenged,” so as not to offend anybody?
       Moving on.
       I've got to admit, this one was close. A news article out of Seattle, Wash., describes a city-funded program, led by an admitted heroin addict who wears a shirt saying
“Proud to be a Drug User,” which features a van that drives around town making sure that only clean needles get used.
       So yes, that's hard to beat.
       But today we're going with one that actually affects the Colorado Springs Westside, and that's the just-announced decision by the Pikes Peak Library District (PPLD) to stop charging fines for overdue library books.
       “Overdue books? Fear not,” reads the start of the breathless press release, which goes on to quote PPLD Director of Library Services Tim Blevins that prime reasons for doing so are that people are more likely to borrow materials without the threat of being financially penalized for tardiness and besides, such fines “are particularly prohibitive for the community's most vulnerable families.”
       Wow, what a deep analysis. You know, the last time I was living on life's edge, just about everything I needed seemed “particularly prohibitive.” Like food, utilities, transportation, medicine, etc. How soon are we going to start giving those things away too? Or loaning them. Whatever.
       Hello, Venezuela!
       But getting back to overdue fines, you know what? Because money was tight for me during a period of my life, I made sure to return library books on time for that very reason! And I think that helped make me a better person, or at least to aim in that direction. And in doing so, I learned the value of productivity, which can contribute to a lot of good things… including less "vulnerability."
       On the other hand, if keeping a book longer than the checkout period is no longer penalized, PPLD's message is that it's OK to take what's not rightfully ours. In a way, that's like sanctioning theft (i.e., non-productive). And our property taxes pay for this?
       I'm told by a former PPLD employee that the new overdue-books policy really just makes official the way the penalty was already not being enforced. Once upon a time, library patrons who had outstanding fines couldn't check out anything until they'd paid up. That policy then evolved to violators being asked if they wanted to pay.
       More recently, PPLD employees haven't been asking at all, for fear (as we've heard) that doing so would cause the deadbeats “embarrassment.”
       At least in this latest policy change, the library district is not relinquishing the power to insist on materials being brought back at some point. If a borrowed item is not returned within 21 days after the due date, the perpetrator will owe PPLD “a fee for lost items, an amount that will depend on the cost of the material in question,” a district spokesperson explained.
       Which is fine for now, but give it time, I say. That policy will probably be relaxed too, before long. It's inevitable, as long as the “particularly prohibitive” mindset exists.
       After all, it's the trend these days that we can't do enough for people that our hearts go out to. From library materials to hypodermic needles. Yet all such compassion does is make things worse - breeding resentment and an unjustified sense of entitlement in the people it's trying to help. Stupid is as stupid does, as Forrest Gump's mother liked to say.

(Opinion: Editor's Desk)

       Kenyon Jordan is the editor of the Westside Pioneer.

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