Gov. Walker signs bill expanding library collection powers

Wisconsin’s library system is getting a boost from the governor.

Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill into law this week that gives libraries more power when it comes to collecting overdue materials. It’s something some libraries have already been taking advantage of, but this new bill clarifies the rules to make sure everyone is on the same page.

Jennifer McGinnis is a frequent visitor at the La Crosse Public Library.

“Sometimes it’s about a couple times a week,” said McGinnis.

Most of the time she ends up leaving with a couple of good books, but at other times she leaves empty-handed.

“I get a little frustrated kind of waiting. Especially when it’s been a couple weeks, waiting for it to get back, but I just wait my turn I guess,” said McGinnis.

McGinnis is just one of many impacted by overdue materials.

“We deal with a delinquent library issue, I am guessing, at least once an hour at one of our locations,” said Kelly Krieg-Sigman, the director of the La Crosse Public Library.

At the La Crosse Public Library right now, more than 1,300 items have not been returned, which is a dollar amount of over $24,000.

“These items have been moved into that billed status and we will be sending them to the collection agency shortly in hopes of getting them back,” said Krieg-Sigman.

Using a collection agency is an option that more and more libraries are taking advantage of.

“The financial impact of unreturned items to libraries is easily over $3 million a year,” said Plumer Lovelace, executive director of Wisconsin Library Association.

It not only impacts the library’s resources but also its budget, which includes taxpayer dollars.

“One of the challenges with these unreturned items is that it puts library directors in a tough spot having to make decisions: Do you repurchase items that have not been returned, or do you use your current budget to purchase new items?” said Lovelace.

To help, Rep. Nancy VanderMeer authored a bill reminding libraries that they can give contact information to collection agencies.

“It still protects patron privacy. “The type of materials or titles of books that are on loan, that would not be disclosed, it’s just contact information of that patron,” said VanderMeer.

Krieg-Sigman said the library is not in the business of making money.

“That’s not our job. Our job is to provide access, to be a community center,” said Krieg-Sigman.

But she said providing that service isn’t easy to do if items aren’t returned.

“I need the materials back because not having them in the collection deprives all of the citizens from access,” said Krieg-Sigman.

There are more than 350 public libraries in Wisconsin and this bill impacts all of them, including academic libraries.

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