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Way to Break That Uptight Image

Forget shushing. The Queens Borough Public Library will ruin your credit. For a little more than a decade, the Queens Library has been referring delinquent overdue fine payers to a debt collection agency, according to yesterday's New York Times.

I know public libraries need to protect their resources and ensure access to as many people as possible. I also that know public libraries are strapped for cash. This past year southern Oregon set a record for the largest set of public library closures in American history. And if it can happen in a place as civic-minded as Oregon, it can happen anywhere.

But isn't getting a credit agency involved a little like killing an ant with a mallet? Do public librarians really want to treat patrons, even delinquent ones, like scofflaws or debtors? And what ever happened to protecting patrons' personal information?

Beyond such vexing ethical questions, this eleven-year-old program stinks of laziness and failure on the part of the Queens Library. Two of the things librarians are supposed to be good at is keeping records and devising systems. With accurate records and efficient processing systems, it should be relatively easy for the Queens Library to minimize theft and prevent excessive abuse of borrowing privileges. At the very least, they should be able to set a reasonable limit and suspend an offender's library services before it gets to a point worthy of collection agency intervention.

If librarians don't do the things that we're supposed to be good at—the things that set us apart—why are librarians necessary at all?

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