There are times when the exercise of authority becomes excessive, terrifying, and incomprehensible. I have come face to face with this authority. I have been charged $13.50 for a computer returned an hour and thirty minutes past due.
There is, of course, nothing wrong with library fines. In a school with our scope, it is difficult to expect every item could be returned promptly without a disincentive against delays. In the absence of a disincentive, there is the frustration of constant scarcity, of empty shelves.
However, having justified a fine, it remains to be understood how severe these reprisals should be. It would not be reasonable, even the most totalitarian of librarians would have to admit, to exact a pound of flesh for every minute after the date. Furthermore, it would not be reasonable to expect a month’s rent for a week’s late copy of The Cambridge Introduction to Russian Literature.
Indeed, once the system has you in its clutches, and has found you guilty, it is not the time for it to exact cruel or unnecessary punishment. This would only be draconian. The punishment, in a code that aims at disincentivizing, should attempt to retain a just and efficient system with minimal harm to the wrongdoer.
Taken in this way, we have to understand how much it would take to preserve a “just and efficient” library. The answer is that not very much of a penalty is required.
For instance, one could imagine a fine of a quarter for every hour late pending a computers’ return. This quarter, as in many libraries, is the fine for the return of a book one day late. The average holder would think to themselves, “every hour I am losing money.” It does not matter that it is a quarter – it will still cause a material anxiety.
There would, of course, be exceptions, but the library in this world would get enough computers’ in on time to keep the tools of a library available and accessible.
Most people, even without a fine they will return things on time, just as the teacher with no late penalties miraculously get student assignments. It is a very rudimentary misunderstanding of human nature, which I would not expect library bureaucrats to comprehend, that downplays the belief in obeying explicit rules and guidelines.
$13.50, after this investigation, should seem too large to be reasonably expected as payment. It is a wild attack at anything standing in the way of worshipped and absolutist laws and practices. Although it will likely make me a martyr, I have to be resolute that I will not pay.
Written by: Ted Jonathan Peters