The Tom Green County Library in San Angelo, Texas, starting March 1, plans to start taking advantage of a new law allowing for civil lawsuits against individuals who have delinquent accounts.

The library has more than 2,000 open cases of delinquent accounts, in files dating up to 12 years, including a number involving materials that have never been return.

Fines for overdue books begin at 10 cents a day past the due date but the library has a cap of $4 for each book, regardless of actual value. The county ultimately assumes a loss and replacement materials are ordered. The individual who checked out the material must pay the library’s cost for that item, a number that is greatly discounted because of the quantity libraries purchase. This means someone can check out any book, not return it and then own the property for much less than the actual value.

Since 2008, 4,858 cases of missing material have been turned over to the county’s Compliance Office, and 2,851 have been resolved, according to San Angelo LIVE!, an online news service. The remaining 2,007 cases account for a balance of more than $113,000. Each case pursued by the county will cost individuals $235 in court fees, plus attorney fees and the original fines and cost of material that was not returned.  

Library officials have stressed that the goal is not to file civil lawsuits but instead to get people to return the delinquent materials. To stress that point, the county is hosting “Amnesty Month” in February, allowing citizens with books and other merchandise to return the items without fear of legal consequences.

But starting March 1, the county will publicly list the names of those with delinquent library accounts.

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