A bill proposed in Wisconsin by Sen. Sheila Harsdorf, R-River Falls, would allow libraries to use collection agencies or law enforcement agencies to help them recover the cost of lost materials and overdue book fines.
Harsdorf said current Wisconsin privacy laws prevent libraries from sharing patro information with a third party. Public libraries in Madison, Wis. - and some others in the state - already use a collection agency. Unique Management Services uses a process called “gentle nudge” to remind borrowers that they owe, according to Madison Public Libraries’ Borrower Services Manager Margie Navarre Saaf. She believes the contract with the collection agency is legal but she would like the bill passed to make the law more clear and because using collection agencies is so effective, she said. Madison’s libraries have recovered approximately an additional $100,000 a year from using Unique Management Services. Harsdorf proposed the bill because of an extensive amount of unreturned materials and outstanding fines, costs that ultimately fall on taxpayers, she said. The concern doesn’t just involve larger cities. Verona Public Library officials in Verona, Wis., a town of roughly 2,000 people, said they’re missing items worth $17,769 that have been lost in the last five years. Currently they can only send a bill to patrons asking for payment as opposed to sharing information with debt collectors. Verona's Library Director Stacey Burkart said they may use a collection service if a bill is passed because their tools are currently so limited. Harsdorf is currently looking for co-sponsors for the bill.