Friday, January 20, 2023

How we get money around here


My library did away with late fines officially a little over a year ago. The whole late fine thing, which dominated years of my life working at this library, turned out to be a house of cards in the end. The pandemic came through and it all started to fall apart. And nobody misses it. Which supports my optimistic view that institutions don't need to be so punitive. They can actually be generous!

Okay, I've been around the block a few times with the public, so let me amend that, but only a little:

Institutions don't need to be so punitive. They can actually be cautiously generous!

That's the good news.

The bad news is that someone in the county IT Department might be reconsidering this strategy. 

This, I warn you, is a true story. It happened today.

We recently, after a tremendous amount of fuss and delay, got new self checkout machines to replace the old ones that worked just fine, but... okay. The new check out machines include a small group of minor improvements, a subtle "new machine" sheen, and an array of downgrades that may or may not be temporary glitches to be worked out over the course of the next decade, or not.

One glitch, if you can call it that, is that only one machine in the building so far takes credit cards for fees (despite the end of fines, we still have assorted charges for rental bestsellers, lost materials, and occasional minor purchases like book bags). An older couple I was helping wanted to pay their $2.50 rental book fees, but they only had credit cards. Disliking a debt, they resolved that they would pay it on our self check out station when they checked out later.

Fifteen minutes later they were back. They said the machine told them they owed $2.50. They hit the "pay" button. The machine then asked if they wanted to pay all $17 of what they owed.


I was excited. I wanted to see this action. First I double checked that they owed a straight up $2.50 with no complications. Then we went to the machine and ran their library card under the laser. The screen said they owed $2.50. We chose to pay, on the touch screen, at which point, sure enough, the machine asked if we would like to pay all $17 of what they owed.


I told the couple that maybe they should hold off on paying the fine until I could track down whether we were trying to trick them into paying too much, or it was just some kind of programming mistake.

Often it's both.


  1. Every once in a while I think something like, "I wish I still worked at the library." Then I get a dose of reality...

    Actually, what would be cool would be if I could do shelving, nothing but shelving, all the time. It's been my favorite library thing to do since 1954. Instead of shelving, you could spend your time solving problems. I hope you'lll provide a follow-up here: what caused the $17 glitch? And are those library machines in any way related to voting machines?

    1. Ha! Voting machines! Er, if we ever figure the glitches with payment out I'll try to let you know, but for now it's pretty weird and I think it would be wiser to disable that function altogether until it's figured out.

      I like shelving as part of a healthy diet, but wow, full on shelving, or full on solving problems might be a bit much. You must be pretty zen to go all in on shelving. Although for me listening to audiobooks while shelving is pretty great.


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