In the digital age, municipal libraries are struggling to stay relevant. Instead of offering free e-books or computer design classes to get people in the doors, the library in Charlton, Massachusetts, opted for a different approach to customer service and sent police to the home of a 5-year-old girl because she hadn't returned her books.
This week, police visited Shannon Benoit and daughter Hailey, who had two library books overdue by a few months. Police informed the family the books needed to be returned immediately or be purchased.
"I thought it was way overboard," mom Shannon told the local CBS Boston affiliate. "I closed my door, I looked at my daughter and she started crying."
After the police left, little Hailey broke down in tears and asked her mom if she was going to be arrested.
Charlton Library officials defended their position in a statement on their website. "Library materials are purchased using taxpayer dollars," the statement read. "We feel as library staff that it is our duty to safeguard those tax dollars."
Police were asked to help recover books and fines from people with materials more than six months late and in excess of $100 in fines. Police visited the homes of 13 families with a combined total of $2,634 in library materials or fines.
Police told media they felt uncomfortable with the mission, but a knock on the door is better than a court summons arriving in the mail.
The library has traditionally been a free source of entertainment, especially in the summers when kids are out of school. However, this incident begs the question: Will punishment discourage parents and children from using the library?
Little Hailey wasn't too far off course when she asked if she was going to get arrested. It has indeed happened in the past. In 2010, police in Baytown, Texas, locked up 25-year-old Jessekah Few for unreturned library materials.
Some libraries, realizing their proverbial hands are tied when it comes to collecting fines or late materials, have offered offenders unique methods of redemption. Some libraries in Canada have wiped out fines all together, believing they drive people away instead of ensuring prompt returns. In addition, the Nashville Public Library has instituted a Food for Fines program, where people can bring in goods to pay their penalties.
Is sending police to the homes of children and families with overdue library books too much -- or the only solution?
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