Overdue Books: Help Me Get My Family Off of The Library's "Most Wanted" List

The following is written by Simple Kids editor Kara Fleck.

This summer my family and I managed to rack up thirty four dollars in library fines.  Thirty four dollars! I”m not sure if I should be proud or ashamed.

On the one hand, at ten cents a day per book, that number represents a lot of summer reading but on the other, building up enormous library late fees isn”t exactly the lesson in responsibility that I want to teach my children.

Luckily for my wallet, our sweet small town librarian waved the fines. (Possibly because she knows that at $1 sheet, my laminating habit will ensure that they get their money one way or another).

This amnesty, while kind, doesn”t relieve my guilt.  I really need to do better about keeping track of the library materials we check out.

Bad Habits

I know that the main problem is our relaxed summer schedule. Unlike during the rest of the year, our summer library day has floated around from week to week to the point that no one knows when anything is due anymore.

“Was this a Thursday check out?  Or a Saturday check out?  Or what about that time we dashed in real quick to get some books for the car ride to the family reunion?”

It also doesn”t help that we check out a variety of materials, so our designated space for library books on the bookshelf isn”t working when some things (audio books, dvds, vhs tapes) travel to other parts of the house for their use.

Having materials scattered all over the house only adds to the library due date confusion, as missing items are sure to be found only after we return from depositing their counterparts.

“Mom, I found that Rainbow Fairies book!  It was under my bed …”

The third part of the equation is that I”m forgetful.  If it isn”t written down, I don”t remember it. I don”t always remember to write it down when we”ve checked out items from the library and I often lose those receipts that they give us (ironically, they usually end up as bookmarks).

I”ll be honest and also admit that at ten cents per day, knowing that low fee will probably be waved for slot maschinen our family of bookworms (can I just brag for a minute that the entire library staff knows all of my kids” names?), the fine isn”t steep enough to deter me.

The sad truth is that if the library really wanted to scare me into being a responsible patron, they”d charge a dollar a day for those books and dvds.  Then I”d be crawling under beds and behind dressers in a heartbeat!

Possible Solutions

A few weeks ago, my friend Mandi of Organizing Your Way had a post about avoiding library fines.  In addition to establishing a regular library day, Mandi suggests using a digital service like Library Elf to keep track of your library materials.

I had no idea such a service even existed, but it sounds perfect for someone like me who uses her computer more and more to go paperless with household documents.

A slip of paper I will probably lose (or use as a bookmark) but it is a little harder to misplace the home computer, so I”m going to give Library Elf a try.

I know that something else we need to do as a family is to re-think our current designated area for storing materials we”ve checked out.  Perhaps we need a larger space on the bookshelf?

Or maybe individual bookshelves assigned per family member, so that the main offender has to be more accountable for ensuring the materials go back to that space when they are finished with them (though this may backfire as I suspect that the main offender is me!)

I also need to find a basket or tray near the television to hold the dvds and vhs tapes we check out.  I know that these will migrate to the area we use them and perhaps eliminating their distance traveled in our home will help to keep them on hand when we are ready to return them?

In short, our current “system” (being very generous with the term here) isn”t working.  Now that we”re back in school, I want to restore our rhythms with a set library day and I need a system for making sure we act responsibly as a family and get those materials returned on time.

How does your family handle library materials? Do you get them in on time? Or, like my family, do you tend to rack up the library fines? Any tips for staying organized?

About Kara

Kara Fleck is the editor of Simple Kids. She is a small town mama, writer, knitter, bookworm, and hooligan. Kara lives in Indiana with her husband Christopher and their four children Jillian, Max, Lucy, and Amelia. You can find more of her writing at KElizabethFleck.com.

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  1. Ask the library clerk to set your account up to email you when items are coming due. Our system does this automatically. As soon as I get the email, I log in to my account with a direct link from the email. Then I renew what I can and print the list. I then go hunt everything down and get it in to the library bag and into the car. This is key. If it’s in the car, you are more likely to return it!

  2. our library sends me an email when things are getting close to being overdue! and i can renew them two times on the computer, so that really helps! i don’t get the “designated spot” for library books because i want the kids to read the books, not worry about keeping them in their place. usually the books are in their bedrooms or in the family room anyway. and, we like to play “hunt the library book” before it’s time to go to the library.
    dana´s latest post: Breakfast Picnic

    • Yes, I suppose I should clarify that I don’t mean a “designated spot” to read the library books, but a spot where we keep the library books when we aren’t reading them. They can read anywhere, but I try to keep the books in a specific spot on our family bookshelves (or, that is the goal anyway LOL)

      I’ll have to check and see if our library has an email service. It would be helpful for sure to have a “heads up” and to be able to renew myself.
      Kara Fleck´s latest post: Sunday Showcase- Link Love

  3. I still have a library book I borrowed from my hometown library in 1993. It’s The Diary of Anne Frank, and when I immigrated from my home country to the USA, I brought the book with me. I don’t know why — it’s not as if I couldn’t buy my own copy — but I loved the book so much that I didn’t want to return it.

    (And yes, I suffer horrible guilt and think to myself, “next time I go back to Australia, I’ll take the book with me and return it to the library.”)

    And it’s purely because I’ve been blacklisted from my hometown library that I’m such a stickler for returning items at my current library. Thankfully, they have an online database where I can look for books, put them on hold, and receive email notifications three days before they are due.

    The other thing is… I can borrow up to 100 books on my library card. To save time (and not fret), I put all library books and movies on my own account. Even though each of my three kids has a library account, it’s just not worth it to look at four different library accounts, so we just keep it to my own account and borrow from there.

    I also have a library bag hanging by the front door. If I’m walking through the house and see something on the floor (or not where it should be), I put it in the library bag to return. Also, the kids are reminded that when they are done with reading something, they have to put it in the bag.

    So far, so good.

  4. Elizabeth says:

    I am also someone who is spoiled by e-mail alerts from the library! The day I figured out that you can sign up for an account to get e-mail reminders was one of the best days of my reading life (and that’s saying A LOT). You should look into that as a possibility, and maybe even mention it to your very friendly librarians! But that website sounds pretty cool too!

    I try to make sure that all of my son’s books stay on one shelf of his room (he’s a pre-reader so we’re reading them at bedtime together) and all of my books have a little spot on top of a low bookshelf in the family room (when they are not on my nightstand). All DVDs and games taken out stay right on top of the TV console, but I’ve been feeling a need for a basket or box to corral them in as well.

  5. We are late returners as well (and I am a Librarian ; ) Our branch has email notifications which as said above are very helpful and I too also put everything on one card. What you may want to inquire about is volunteering, we generally have a policy of waiving fees for them and yes we even have children volunteers! A win win for everyone involved, we always very much appreciate the help.

  6. Our library is very computer friendly. I get emails from the library for reminders and I go to my online account for our library and check it often. You can renew there and request books from other libraries. I hardly ever pay a fine but when I do it is minimal and almost nothing compared to buying items. Our library has new DVD and books (with a fast turnaround) so I have saved hundreds using the library this year alone.

  7. We have about 50-75 books/DVDs/CDs checked out at any given time all year ’round. If our library didn’t have an online reservation, renew & due date website we’d be in trouble! We can go online and simply renew, check due dates, add more books to the hold list…easy!!!
    denise´s latest post: inside and out

  8. I do a combination of things (since I have a bad memory and too many things on my to do list). First, I always have a spot in the house where all the library books and videos are stored. Second, I keep the library receipt with the due date inside my wallet. This forces me to “see” the receipt and remind me that the due date is coming up. And third, I sometimes put the date on my google calendar — I get an automatic email letting me know that I have that item to take care of.
    Angelica @ Modern Familia´s latest post: The Pursuit of Family Happiness

  9. We’ve had a Rainbow Fairy book lost all summer. I’ve renewed it 6 times! I’m finally giving up on finding it, and I’ll just go pay for it. I don’t mind small overdue fines — I’m supporting the library, a very worthy cause! — but losing a book has really annoyed me and I haven’t even let my daughter check out another one since. We own plenty anyway.

    We get email reminders too. A designated spot hasn’t worked well for us because then the books are read less. I think a regular library time would be a good idea, and I may try that.

  10. We fortunately also have an email system from the library and I use that to renew items. We keep all of the library books and magazines in a basket that we checkout from the library. I do have an issue when the kids take them into their rooms – I am thinking of getting them little baskets in their rooms so its easy for me to find them if I need to? I keep the dvd’s in the main library basket, unless they are being used, and if so, they stay right on the tv stand in plain sight. I don’t do well with cd’s so I tend to not borrow those and audio books are treated just like regular books – if not being used, stay in main library basket otherwise they migrate to the kids’ rooms.

    I do tend to go for months without fines but once I slip, I slip all the way and rack up some fairly large fines! But the email does really help – I will often scan it at night so I know what is due – and I seriously take advantage of the book drop for books I may have forgotten to drop off and they are due – I will hunt them down after everyone is in bed and drop them off in the a.m. before the library opens – then I don’t get charged!

  11. My library sends an email 3 days before they are due which is perfect. We get 20-25 at a time and return all of them at the same time so we don’t confuse dates.

    If your library doesn’t email you can set up an alert for yourself on many email or calendar programs.

    Sidenote: I love the HUGE FREE shopping spree feeling I get when I go to the library.
    Janna @ Mommy’s Piggy TALES – Record YOUR Youth´s latest post: Eighth Grade Featured Tales

  12. As someone who has worked full time as a library advocate, it’s so great to hear all this good library use. However, I’ve certainly racked up the fines as well. We joke that we’ll have a plaque with our names.

    Our very small town library is very low- tech, no email alerts.

    So what I’ve done to keep us on track is:
    – write down a list of everything we’ve taken out in my Planner Pad calendar
    – write down the due dates (videos are different) in the calendar
    – in general keep everything on kitchen counter near door as we finish them

    We still may have to hunt a bit but at least I have a checklist and due dates recorded in my regular schedule so I can plan a bit.
    Sarah´s latest post: Exercise- Stress Buster for Tough Times

  13. Our library has minimal fees for books, but $1 for DVDs, so, like you said, I find that I’m much more likely to get things back when I know my movies will add up to $3 a day! They also have a great system in our library, where checkouts are all tied into the computer system so that you can not only look up your due dates (and make reservations–love!)from your computer, but also get reminder emails a few days before they’re due! I’d be dead without it!
    Amanda Morgan´s latest post: Next Time Won’t You Sing With Me Sharing Alphabet Knowledge with Preschoolers

  14. My library is set up with an online account linked to the card. I can see what’s checked out, the due dates, late fines (if any), renew and reserve materials . My library also has email alerts for materials that will be due or are overdue. I also like to tack my receipts to my corkboard and stack all of my finished books somewhere they can be seen. I suppose it doesn’t hurt that my library’s late fees are $.25 per book per day ($2.00 per DVD per day) either. Once the fine reaches $5.00, you can’t checkout anything until you pay. Fear of losing access to books always keeps me on time. 😉

  15. I keep the receipt in my dayplanner. I also write down on the dayplanner ‘library books due’ on that date. When there are different dates, and I’m not sure which book(s) are due on what date(s) I then log into my library account to see if it’s something I want to renew. If not, then into the bookbag they go, which hangs by the front door for the next morning’s errands. A little more archaic, but hey, it works for me! (I am also one that doesn’t mind paying (minimal) fees, as I consider it a charitable donation since my 2 yr old terrorizes storytime at 3 different branches weekly. :)

  16. I’m the 9 zillionth vote for the email reminder. I just got one this morning. I also recently discovered that our library charges 10 cents a day, but with a 7 day grace period. So, no fine if you return books within the week they’re due, but they charge you 80 cents on the 8th day and add it up after that. Make sense? This helps reduce my stress because I know we just need to get in another library day within the week they are due.

    We also return ALL library materials when we visit the library. That way, I don’t have to track various due dates. Granted, my kids are little, so we never have to worry about a book not being finished in time.
    Alissa´s latest post: Summer Events – Camping

  17. I blame my overdue habits on working in the library during college- when I worked I would pull up my account and renew anything getting close to late. Now, I have the email/online system available to me, but we had a few painful years inbetween where I supported my share of the library. But what a deal! Even if I paid $10 a month (which I don’t :) that would feel like a steal with all the services and materials available. Yay libraries!!

    • I agree: Hooray for libraries!

      You’re right – paying library fines is a quite a deal, especially when you consider all the wonderful things the library systems offers communities :-)

      Three cheers for libraries, librarians, and online reminder systems!
      Kara Fleck´s latest post: Sunday Showcase- Link Love

  18. Our library system finally went to an online system and it has saved me tons! I set up an account at our local branch & I can go in and see what we checked out and when it’s due. We do have a schedule library day, which is helpful. That morning, I look up and see what we’ve checked out and the girls do a “library book roundup”.

    Before the online system, I would come home and immediately make a virtual sticky note on our computer I would make a list of everything we checked out and put the due date. You could do that on a smart phone, too.
    Paula@Motherhood Outloud´s latest post: Being vs Doing- Wisdom from Psalm 1

  19. As a mother of five, I highly recommend setting a limit to the number of books each kid can check out. Although honestly, I have trouble sticking to my limit too. LOL We also got each kid their own card so they can learn to be responsible for their own books. Of course, having a toddler in the house, there are often times when he decides to “borrow” his siblings books and then we go on the mad hunt around the house. But really, I don’t mind paying overdue library fines! Kinda like how I don’t mind spending more to have my hair done. It’s the important things in life, ya know?

  20. Our library also does email alerts, and they’re very helpful. Our other trick: We have one very large bag that is never used for anything but holding library materials. It lives on the floor by the bookcases in the living room, and we use it to take materials to/from the library and to hold any materials not in active use. The books do tend to get scattered, but we just gather them up any time we do a big tidy (usually every 2-4 days) and put them back in the bag until someone wants to read them again.

  21. I love out library’s online website. I use it to reserve books, renew things, see when things are due etc. It’s the best way for us.
    DL´s latest post: Mommy Meltdown

  22. We’re at the library almost every day, so every morning, we check the library website to see what might be due. We also have a shelf just for library books, so when we’re done reading a book, it goes back on that shelf so it doesn’t disappear into oblivion. It also helps that we live in a one-bedroom apartment and my daughter’s only 2, so the books don’t magically walk away :)

  23. We do use Library Elf and love it! It emails me and then I just click through to renew or make a mental note that we need to head to the library.

    We check things out from various libraries as well, so it always tells me which books go where.
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  24. As a former librarian, let me say I have seen much larger fines than $34 :) I’m sure you use a calendar – write down which days you have items due to remind you to go online and renew if you’re not going in. I keep a library bag, and when we’re done with something (a movie we’ll watch once, a mama book I finished, a kid’s book he didn’t really like) I put it in there – it’s green, too, no plastic! Keeping all the books together is the way to go, but of course that’s easier for me right now with a 2yo and 3mo. Maybe two designated areas? A bucket in their room and a spot on the shelf?

  25. We have recently put storage buckets in everyone’s bedrooms just for library books. We use those colored plastic totes (Target sells them as ice buckets in the summer). In any event, we use those for a number of things, but I got several royal blue ones on sale after the 4th of July and those are ONLY for library books. We typically go to the library every Monday or Tuesday evening and now the kids can easily find their library books and see what they want to return. Since we often have 40 items out at a time (!) I do require they return most items before getting more. The DVDs stay in our living room (where they are watched) so those are easily collectible. The bins work well because they hold a great deal (and differet sized items) and are easily moved around as the kids need. Additionally, the library does give us a heads-up email when items are due. And I can easily check my online account which shows exactly what has been checked out, when it is due, what the fine is, etc. Sometimes I print the list to check items off before we return them. We can also renew (once) online. Our library also blocks you from checking out new items if you have a fine of over $10. All of those things are very helpful for keeping us in check!

  26. I am a big user of library books, thank god they exist otherwise I would go broke.
    I use two baskets (one on each floor) to keep the library books and we go every wednesday. it works fine for us except this summer because our schedule is a bit off ;o)
    Imene´s latest post: The big birthday post

  27. It cracks me up how many comments posts about library fines get. It really is the universal topic, I think!

    Thanks so much for linking to my post, Kara!!
    Mandi @ Organizing Your Way´s latest post: Take Care of Yourself and Live Life to the Fullest

  28. i check out books in multiples of five. that way i know exactly how many i’m gathering up when we’re racing to get them back in time!

  29. Christine says:

    I do all my library book management on-line. My library sends me the e-mail alerts, as listed, but also allows me to view my “account” of all my requested books, checked out books, overdue books and fines.

    I log in about once a week and check and see what’s due. Sometimes, if there are a couple errant things due, I just click and renew them so that I can drop them off at a later date with some of the other items that are due. This doesn’t always work, but it often saves me a trip. Sometimes, I also make sure to just reconcile us to dropping off books without going in. Mom parks the car in front of the library in the 5 min only spot, leaves the kids in the car and drops off the books. No whining allowed.

    That being said, I routinely have to pay off the library from fines. Sometimes knowingly (I figured out it was cheaper to keep a book while we went on vacation and finish it than to buy my own copy) and sometimes due to negligence on my part. In tough economic times where our library has had to cut back on hours in the face of increased usage, I just take it out of our book budget and call it a donation to support our local library.

  30. I feel your pain. Our library charges twenty-five cents a day, and we’ve racked up some bad fines. I had one in the three digits. It was so bad that I wrote about it on my blog! (Here, if you want the gory details – http://www.feelslikehomeblog.com/2010/05/my-library-fine )

    I’ve done a lot better this summer, but our problems usually occur during the school year. We’ll see how this year goes.

  31. We have built whole wings on libraries from our fines. A family of seven reading geeks is a dangerous thing! We’ve tried several different strategies: limiting the amount of books that can be checked out at one time, banning skinny paperbacks from the checkout, and lining up all the books before we leave the library and xeroxing their spines all together. The resulting copy looks like a bad close-up photo of a bookshelf. The due date can be written at the top of the page and then stuck to the fridge.

  32. nice to know other moms check out huge loads of books like us… always feel like the oddball when we traipse up to the desk with arm loads and bag loads of books to check out! I have had lots of issues with fines and even had some in the*big gulp* triple digits- yikes! until I found Library Elf- LOVE IT!!! this service is great and I even get a TEXT msg (don’t know if someone already mentioned that?) that tells me if a hold item is ready for pick up or if I have books DUE date coming up! Awesome :)
    Sarah C´s latest post: First day of 1st Grade!

  33. I take full advantage of our library’s online service. I can see when everything is due and renew online. We still ocassionaly have things go overdue, of course.

  34. Like many who responded, my library has an email system. Actually, they have a fantastic website and send me not only reminders about the items that are coming up due or holds that are in (a great way for me to make sure I get something to read when the kids want to head straight for their section!) but they also send me emails about new items (with a “hold this item” button, to boot!)
    My library DOES charge $1 a day late fee on DVDs, so we don’t mess with that and we just treat the kids books (which are fairly simple these days as mine are both under 5) as due each week, just to keep it simple and keep us all from getting bored. I try to take the kiddos weekly and I usually renew online when I get the reminder email anyway, just in case.
    Our bookshelves are in the living room and that is where we do all of our reading with the kids and DVD watching. We keep those items on top of the dresser that we use to store our CDs and DVDs. Grown-ups’ books are kept in our entry and my current read is always kept on the magazine rack in the bathroom (’cause when else do I have time to read, but on the can?!)

  35. Another library “supporter” here through fines! We’ve done far better this summer though as we also have the email reminder service and I found a steal of a deal on wicker laundry baskets at Michael’s. I got one for each child and we keep the library books in them in their rooms. It has worked wonders. Dvds go on a shelf above the computer (where we watch them 90% of the time) and audio books go on the shelf above the CD player. I also find that a set library day helps me out as well as not waiting for the 3 week renewal period to end for many of the kids books. If it has been read and enjoyed, then it heads back.
    Thanks for the fab post….nice to know I’m not alone!

  36. Oh I so enjoyed this post! My mother is a librarian at our local library so I have been very spoilt – she renewed our books for me whenever they were due, and if new children’s books came in, we got to read them first, because Grandma had ‘dips’ on them! Alas, she is retiring at the end of this month, so I have been trying very hard to rely on her less. So far having a designated library day helps, as well as keeping everyone’s books in a magazine rack in their rooms. We don’t have any online library services, which doesn’t help, but we are limited to only 7 books per card, which does help. At this stage my biggest challenge is going to the libraty with my 2 1/2 and 1 year old. Big sister is a perfect little library user, but the baby becomes a bookie monster the moment I let him out of his stroller! And although I have not had to pay very high overdue fees, I recently had to pay for a book that my son had EATEN – yup. about halpof it was GONE!!

  37. I’m thankful that I live very close to the neighboring county (which has reciprocity privileges); I only check out DVDs in the “other” county’s library system as they give us 4 weeks with no fines, rather than 1 week with fines (in our county system). My kids often ask (at each visit) in our neighborhood library to take out dvds & I’m fine with answering in a normal voice that we only take out DVDs at the other library where we dont’ get charged money after a week and that there’s no way we’d consistently bring them back after 1 week. We also take advantage of online renewals & online late notices. I try to check online every 2 weeks to renew as needed. I check the list of what’s due/overdue & gather as many as possible before we go & I have a few specific baskets around the house just for library books/DVDs/CDs. Some still stray, but those catchalls do help us (I also have a spot on top of a bookcase reasonably out of kid reach to put DVDs & not-yet-read-“to”-them chapter books. At one time I had more than 50 books out of one system & another 20-30 out of the other; I think I’d shrivel up if I was limited to 7!!

  38. This one made me laugh. I am HORRIBLE at remembering to return books and often send my husband to “do the deed” when I know I have a huge fine. Our library just started emailing out courtesy reminders which has been so awesome for us!
    Kelly Coyle DiNorcia´s latest post: Sunday Link Love

  39. A big key to this for me is number of items. We used to have 60-70 out at a time. Now I shoot for 10-20 for our family of 4. Too much of a good thing can still be too much. I find it’s–dare I say–SIMPLER to deeply read and reread, absorb, and apply reading material than multitask over many books at a surface level. This combined with the rhythm of a set library day has virtually cured my fine problem – and it was a big problem. It really is in the spirit of simplicity, I think.


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