Friday, July 04, 2008

Watching The Book Detectives

We remember when we first saw Woody Allen on black and white TV in the late sixties and the story he told about when he had an overdue library book. He was quietly sitting at home when the house was suddenly surrounded by armed police, searchlights blazing into the windows, megaphone messages to give himself up, helicopters hovering overhead. They demanded back the book. He had to walk out, hands in the air, kicking the book in front of him and as a punishment they took away his reading glasses for a year. It was one of the funny stories that was as much about, how he conveyed the story, as the story itself.

So it was funny to read in the Telegraph that private detectives are being use by Norfolk County Council to track down unpaid fines for overdue library books and school transport. Only about 10% of the cost was related to recovering overdue library books, DVDs and CDs. It once again conjured up those images Woody so masterfully created but this time one could imagine surveillance teams parked outside the house in white vans, phones being tapped, databases being searched and the boys being sent round with baseball bats.

It is reported that library users in Norfolk alone have over the last six years paid £1.4m in fines for overdue books. Then there are the books that never return to be often found later in car boot sales or auction sites. We probably have all seen used books with library stamps and determining the genuine from the stolen is impossible.

Digitisation may help in loss prevention and debt collection but itself raises many issues about libraries versus retail, free to read versus pay to read. Until these and other issues are addressed then it looks like we now have to beware of strangers in trilbies and raincoats.

No comments: