Miss Woodhouse's Musings

…about life, the universe, and everything. Don't panic!


on 29 January 2010

Warning: this post contains a long-winded English major talking about business and budgets. Read at your own risk! The author assumes no responsibility for misinformation, because the city’s information is confusing, and she refuses to go to business school just to understand it. All the best- Miss Woodhouse

I’m missing a library book.

Wait, stop! Please don’t pass out!

Okay now? Good; I’ll move on.

Here’s the deal: it’s somewhere in my room, and I will find it. Hopefully, I’ll find it tonight. It’s just that it’s a small little paperback, and I have a lot of books. No, really, I mean it. A lot of books. Too many books, if there is such a thing. (I don’t believe that there is, but others have a differing opinion.)

What I find amazing is that if I go buy the same book as I lost for the library with the same ISBN, it’ll cost me about $6. Seriously, and that’s for a new copy. They, however, want me to pay $16 dollars to replace the book, with no guarantee that they’ll get a new copy to replace the one I can’t find. They can make $10 or more on this transaction! Arg.

But this post is not meant to focus on my inability to organize. No, this post is on the ridiculousness  of libraries. First off, library fines don’t go straight back into the library budget. They instead go into the city coffers. I have a bit of an issue with that. If I get a speeding ticket, then I expect my money to go to the city. If my book is a little late, then I expect my money to go to the library.

Apparently, this is a tough concept for the city to handle. Or maybe not.

Before I delve too deeply into this mess, allow me to confess that I am not a business-type person. I don’t fully understand the workings of city government, and all the information I have is gleaned from conversations with librarians and a PowerPoint that you are free to view for yourself here. But never fear, dear readers, this ignorance will not stop me from expressing my opinion.

Our city, by its own admission, has higher library fines than average. More to the point, its fines are much higher than the cities surrounding it. According to data from 2007 (not great, I know, but it’s the most recent I could find), other cities are between $.10-.15 per item. We are at $.20.

Now for the big numbers. Annually, residents pay somewhere in the neighbourhood of $300,000 yearly in fines. Now that I see those numbers, my $16 seems so insignificant. Wow, $300,000? That’s a lot of late books/movies/cds!

This is the part where my head begins to hurt. Library fines (which I’ve been told don’t go directly to the library), only make up 2% of the annual library budget. Breathe for a moment and soak up that information. Our libraries have a 15 million dollar budget? They don’t seem to buy all that many new materials, so I’m assuming that the bulk of that goes to building upkeep and salaries. It may look like a lot of money, but then realize you are spreading that out among 10 buildings. Not such a liberal budget after all. Anyway. It is also 13% of book purchasing yearly- sorry, but doing that math makes my head hurt. Feel free to work out what the annual book buying budget is and post it in the comments!

So, if I have this right (and again, I might not), the fines we pay make up 2% of the total budget, and that 2% of the budget only cover 13% of book buying costs. Is anyone else having flashbacks to high school Algebra word problems? Then we will quickly move on.

Now, in 2007 the libraries began using a collection agency for accounts seriously in arrears. Considering I have about $50 on my card right now (I’ll drastically reduce that by finding this silly book), I’ve been a little nervous about that agency. (Editor’s note: make that $47.60. Yuck.)

I shouldn’t be. According to my source material, 454 accounts in 2007 had fines amounting to more than $72,000. At first I thought that all 454 accounts added up to $72,000, with the average account having a $158 total fine. No, apparently these are individual accounts with $72,000 each. I don’t know if that is even possible, but unless the slides are poorly written that’s what they say. That would make outstanding fines over $32.5 million, and that seems unreasonable to me. Maybe it is the $158 instead, but who knows?

Here’s my problem- if our yearly library budget is $15 million (and again, math is not my strong suit), and the city managed to collect the some $30 million in unpaid fines (we are still very hypothetical here), that extra money would not go to the library. Instead, that money would go to the city coffers, $15 million would go to the Library budget (making Library fines support them 100%), and the other $15+ million? I guess that the city could do with it whatever they choose. This, my friends, is what I don’t see as fair.

So now my head hurts, I know WAY too much about library budgets, and I still don’t know where that book is. If only I knew how to hack one of those grossly overdue accounts. I mean, if you owe over $72,000, what’s another $50 or so? Oh well, off to dredge the room….

(Just kidding! The book is found, returned, and the debt settled. More money for the city, I guess.)

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