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Northland Public Library: late fees can be satisfied in advance

| Thursday, Aug. 25, 2011

Northland Public Library officials have devised a way for patrons who are perpetually late in returning their books to get ahead of themselves.

They can pay their fines in advance.

The McCandless library last week began selling prepaid late fee cards.

Patrons buy a card for $10, and the library gives those buyers an additional $1 credit, all of which can be used toward paying late fees. Library employees keep track of how much is spent and how much remains on the card.

"It's late fees people would have paid anyway, so this makes it a little more convenient," said Sandra Collins, executive director of the library. "Patrons can buy one, and it will last until they use it all up, or they can use it as a gift."

Northland officials borrowed the idea from the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, which has sold about 230 cards since introducing them in December.

Marilyn Jenkins, executive director of the Allegheny County Library Association, said she is not aware of any other libraries with a similar program but praised Carnegie and Northland for their resourcefulness.

"Libraries are looking for a lot of creative opportunities to tap resources they haven't been able to in the past," Jenkins said. "Clearly the individual customer is one of those resources and because customers tend to value libraries, they are likely to support their library in that way."

While the cards don't have a big impact on the library's overall budget, unspent money isn't returned, said Carnegie spokeswoman Suzanne Thinnes.

So they become "a way for people to make donations to the library in small amounts," Thinnes said.

And in addition to covering fines, the cards "also alleviate some pressure (of having to return books on time)," she said.

Late fees vary depending on the type of material. At Northland, an overdue fee for a book is 25 cents per day; Carnegie charges 30 cents per day for a book. Both charge $1 per day for an overdue DVD or video game.

Northland sold five cards last week, Collins said. Signs are posted around the building advertising the card, which was publicized in the library's monthly newsletter and on its Facebook page.

Patrons can buy cards with cash or check at the customer service or checkout desk, or they can be added to library accounts, which can be paid online using MasterCard, Visa or Discover credit cards.

The Northland Public Library is at 300 Cumberland Road, McCandless. Details: 412-366-8100 or http://www.einetwork.net/ein/northland/ .

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