Scott Walker passes bill supporting libraries with bipartisan support

New bills allows libraries to give information to collection agencies and police to help recover materials and fines

“Scott Walker” and “bipartisan support” are two things we don’t really hear about in the same sentence together. Today, that is about to change, thanks to libraries and the bandits who are bold enough to steal from a place that lets you read books for free.

On Feb. 29, Scott Walker signed a bill into law authorizing outside parties or collection agencies and police to help get people to pay their late fees, fines and materials back. Last year the issue of unreturned items cost the state a whopping $3.5 million.

The “Return of Library Materials” bill easily passed through the state senate and assembly with support from both parties, something Mr. Walker is probably not accustomed to. This bill means libraries can legally give a patron’s name, contact information and amount owed to collection agencies. Information about which items were checked out would remain private.

My delinquent housemate has rented eight CDs and two books from the library since last July and recently received a letter from the IRS telling her she needs to return her items. The letter scared her, but she still hasn’t returned any of the items, most likely out of laziness and not out of malice. She said now that the law is involved she plans on returning her books.

The previous statute guarded the identity of the patrons but there were exceptions to the rule and a number of Wisconsin libraries, including the Eau Claire public library, already used collection agencies. This new bill removes any need for interpretation of the law at a local level.

If a stolen item is valued at over $50 the police are allowed to get involved, according to Wisconsin law. This helps protect smaller libraries who cannot afford to use a collection agency.

Isa Small is the programming and communications director at the L.E. Phillips Memorial Library and she said she “absolutely” supports the bill.

Last year the Eau Claire public library had $750,000 worth of material taken, but thanks to collection agencies they were able to recover $364,000 worth of fines and materials, Small said.

Using collection agencies has proved to be effective in keeping our libraries filled with books for everyone to enjoy. Passing a bill to make the process easier for the libraries while still protecting the privacy of library patrons is a smart idea.

Their biggest concern is getting the stolen items back, which isn’t as easy as collecting mwoney for fines.

“Whether a book is lost because it’s overdue or it just isn’t on the shelf, it would go to the section selector and they will look into the title and see if it is still a good fit for the collection,” Small said.

The L.E. Phillips Memorial Library was the first in the United States to allow patrons to check out iPads, Small said. They were given a grant in 2011 and had to get the police involved to recover the iPads on several occasions.

Libraries are wonderful places filled with all sorts of valuable information and items to check out. If you or a friend have a long overdue book you should return it before you have a collection agency coming after you.

Don’t be a delinquent like my roommate, return your books. Make our librarians’ lives a little easier and help keep libraries full and fun.