When an Ann Arbor District Library patron apologized profusely while paying her $8 fine for overdue materials, the clerk reassured her: “That’s nothing. We have several people who owe more than a thousand dollars in fines.”

“I don’t know who said that but they shouldn’t,” responds AADL director Josie Parker. “We are bound by privacy laws not to talk about patrons’ records. Furthermore, no one has anything close to a thousand dollars in outstanding fees.”

Parker explains that library users who rack up $10 or more in fines lose their checkout privileges until they pay up. If an item will cost $40 or more to replace—art books, for instance, can run several hundred dollars—and if it isn’t returned after forty days, the debt is turned over to a collection agency specializing in library fines.

In a typical year, the library brings in about $500,000 in fines and recovered materials, with the collection agency accounting for about a quarter of the total. “If you consider we have 107,000 cards issued and only 1,800 patrons are referred to the collection agency each year, I think we can conclude that Ann Arbor is a very responsible community as far as library usage is concerned,” says Parker.

To boost timely returns, the AADL e-mails patrons when an item is due. “It’s normal for most people to need a little reminding,” she says.