Calling the cops for library overdue fines

March 1, 2016

Liam Manjon explains how a bill in Wisconsin would allow libraries to turn the names of people with late fees over to police, in an article for the Redwriting blog.

IN A turn of events that conjures scenes of Seinfeld episodes with Officer Bookman, the library detective, the Wisconsin State Assembly passed legislation that would allow libraries to call the police on people who have late fees. The bill passed the Assembly on February 16 and the Senate last week. It is now on the desk of Republican Gov. Scott Walker to be signed.

Public libraries are a service that are paid for by everyone in society and a service that is meant for everyone in society. The dissemination of books among the public is exactly what the purpose of the library is.

Libraries are disproportionately used by women overall, and by Blacks and Latinos for Internet usage. This bill will disproportionately impact Wisconsin's homeless and women, as well as Latino and Black residents.

The involvement of the police in library operations is an overreach and a recipe for disaster. As the Black Lives Matter movement has made clear over the last year, interacting with the police can lead to fatal conclusions, even more so when the interaction is between police and Black males, transgender people and people with mental disabilities. Using a state apparatus that has the legal right to use force and to escalate situations quickly to collect on fines from somebody who may be trying to better themselves, but doesn't have the resources to buy all the books they need themselves, is a policy that is shortsighted and ignorant of the violent and repressive role that police play in this society.

Madison Public Library
Madison Public Library (Katie Wheeler)

BESIDES BEING disastrously dangerous for the citizens of Wisconsin, this bill will put even more obstacles in the way of citizens who use the library books and Internet services to better themselves, find jobs and make money on the Internet. It will serve to further the income gap in Wisconsin, disproportionately among Blacks and Hispanics.

This attack on public services should be seen as part of the neoliberal agenda of the Scott Walker government. This is yet another maneuver to put the burden of the financial crisis that Walker has failed to address on the backs of the homeless, poor, women, Latino and Black Wisconsinites. Although this would arguably do little to alleviate government spending and might even cost more than it saves, it is indicative of the neoliberal ideology of austerity for the people and a nanny-like relationship between the state and corporations.

If Wisconsinites are having trouble returning library materials, then why punish them? What is so bad about a government, which we pay for, buying books for its citizens? If folks are in a position to return library materials on time, then the issue is not lack of punitive measures but lack of public infrastructure. We need better public transportation and a rail system that runs often and is cheap or free.

If people are truly stealing library material, the solution is to address the reason that they feel they need to steal books in the first place. If a Wisconsinite is in a position that they need to steal books to survive, then the answer is not more punitive measures--it is an income inequality issue.

If libraries are strapped for cash and materials so badly that they need to use the police to collect, then the real solution is to give them more money. We need more social services, not more police!

First published at Redwriting.

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