A reader of DLTJ sent me a private comment this afternoon pointing me in the direction of a post on wisegeek with the title How can I Avoid Library Fines? This reply may never reach 246 Diggs (at the time of writing) ((I hope this post doesn't get that popular -- the DLTJ server would burst into flames from overwork!)) as the original story did, but I'll let you in on a little secret of our own:
Libraries Generally Don't Care About the Fines.
"What!?!" – you say? 'tis true. The author of the wisegeek story says:
The easiest way to avoid library fines is to return your books on time. There is a simple hack, however, that allows a patron to return books past the due date without being fined.
4. Take the books back to the library, but do not return them into the drop box; reshelve them in the appropriate place.
Fines are but a means to an end. The primary purpose of a library is to share materials among a community. The threat of overdue fines are one way to ensure that materials are returned promptly for others to use. Another mechanism is demerits on your account — accumulate enough of them and you can't use the library. A third mechanism might be publicly posting your name (this works in small communities as a form of peer pressure). It might even be argued that the small amount of money collected for overdue fines is outweighed by the cost of tracking and collecting those fines. (Replacement costs for items lost, of course, are another matter entirely.)
Now forget about the money and just return your materials on time. After all, you'd want someone to do the same for something you are interested in reading, right?