Crossroads libraries pursue criminal action to guard their collections

Melissa Crowe By Melissa Crowe

July 19, 2014 at 2:19 a.m.

Most penalties for overdue books cost a nickel or dime a day, but borrowers in the Crossroads who don't pay up could land in jail.

Libraries in Cuero, Victoria, Port Lavaca and Refugio turn to the courts system to go after library book hoarders and forgetful borrowers.

Cuero residents could face arrest for library fines as low as $1.

Barbara Jacob, interim librarian at Cuero Public Library, said they give borrowers two weeks to return materials before the municipal court takes over.

She cannot recall a time someone served time in jail.

"When they get that letter, they're usually prompt" in returning the books, Jacob said. "It's wasting taxpayer money to have people continually abuse the policy."

For a central Texas library in Copperas Cove, staff decided it was a waste of taxpayer money to pursue legal action.

Ryan Haverlah, Copperas Cove budget director, said the library is a public service and isn't intended to make money.

"I understand completely about protecting your assets and the safekeeping of those assets," he said. "But the community has to make a decision on whether protecting those assets is greater than the service provided by the library."

The Copperas Cove City Council unanimously voted in June to drop the jail policy and contract with a collections agency for handling overdue and lost library materials.

While libraries across the country are also dropping their jail policies, some have completely done away with late fees.

The Goliad County Library doesn't seek criminal action or call collections agencies. Lorinda Rangel, an assistant library aide, said the library absorbs the loss.

"If they call and pay to replace it, we'll let it go, but a lot never come back," she said.

Prudey Piwetz, an assistant librarian at the Dennis M. O'Connor Public Library in Refugio, said she has seen only one case in which a reader was arrested.

"It's theft of county property," she said. Library patrons "don't think of it as being theft, but it is because it doesn't belong to you."

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