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Libraries haven’t collected late fees since May

While city hall is trying to figure out how to come up with nearly $10 million to bridge a budget gap, the city’s libraries have not been able to collect an estimated $29,000 in library fines since early May due to a computer snafu.

A Lincoln woman told me twice this summer she tried to pay her late fees, and twice was told the library couldn’t take her payment due to computer problems.

“Here I am willing to pay late charges for a service that I have used… and a city service who has been crying for years that it doesn’t have enough funding is not even using the systems set in place to legitimately generate revenue,” the woman said in an email. “I wonder how much work it is to fix the ‘computer problem’ and what revenue could be gained if the simple system of library overdue charges was being managed properly.”

So I asked the head of the library system, Pat Leach, what was going on, and she said all of Lincoln’s libraries moved to a “new automated system” on May 4. However, the city wasn’t able to install the software that notifies people by phone that they owe late fees, and library officials didn’t feel it was fair to assess charges before notifying people first, so fines were not assessed for items returned late during that time — and apparently will never be collected, Leach said.

“The process of that installation took a remarkable number of twists and turns, but should be installed this week,” Leach said recently in an email. “We hadn’t expected this to take so long. In the meantime, we felt it unfair to charge our customers when we weren’t able to notify them of overdues. As soon as the system is installed, you can be sure that we will be charging again.”

On Thursday, Leach said she expected to have the phone notification system “up and running within a few days.”

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