Last year, Hennepin County's 41 libraries collected almost $1.7 million in fines on overdue or lost materials. In 2009, fine revenue was more than $1.8 million.

Sharon Charles, manager of the community and patron services division, said it's library policy that "individuals are responsible and accountable for the materials they borrow. When materials are returned late, they are not available to others, so fines and service fees are levied as incentive for the public to return materials on time.

"The demand for library resources is great, and fines ... help the library meet that demand.''

Charles answered questions about how fines are set, how Hennepin County's penalties compare to those in other library systems, and about how much library users pay if they lose a book.

Q: How is fine amount arrived at?

A: Current fine rates are based on past practice and an analysis of practices at other library systems in the region. The Library Advisory Board approves the fee and fine policy.

Q: How long has the fine for adult materials been 30 cents a day?

A: The fine for adult materials was raised from 25 cents per day to 30 cents on Feb. 1, 1996.

Q: How do Hennepin County Library fines compare with those in other library systems?

A: In 2008, Hennepin County Library surveyed the practices of 26 library systems, including the seven other library systems in the Twin Cities metro area and the major city and county library systems in the United States. Of the libraries surveyed, 96 percent levy overdue fines and 92.3 percent have fines on children's material. Fines on adult material ranged from 20 to 35 cents per overdue item per day, and the fines on children's material ranged from 5 cents to 25 cents.

Q: Do all or most library users pay fines or just a small percentage of users?

A: The library doesn't have that information.

Q: Are children's or adult books most likely to be overdue?

A: The library doesn't have that information.

Q: How is the fine for a lost book determined?

A: If a book is long overdue or lost, the fine is based on the average cost of materials in its category. For example, $25 is the fine for lost adult nonfiction books, large-print books, teen audiobooks on tape, adult and teen DVDs, children's and easy audiobooks on CD, CD boxed sets of adult and teen music, software and CD-ROMs.

Q: Why is an average used as a fine? Why not the actual cost of the book? Why can't people simply buy a copy of the lost book and give it to the library, since most books don't cost $25?

A: The fee includes the cost of the processing needed to replace the title. There is a cost to add materials to the library collection -- data entry, processing, etc. The replacement item must also be the right edition and binding.

Q: Is there a way to contest a fine?

A: The Library Board Fee and Fine Policy outlines the circumstances when fines and fees may be waived. Circumstances include hospitalization, imprisonment or eviction of a library patron or the loss of materials due to theft, fire or natural disaster. All such circumstances must be documented. Library staff can be consulted about fines.

Q: What should you do if you have a book that's due, but you can't get to the library?

A: There are several ways for library patrons to renew materials without actually going to a library. They can call 612-543-8811. They can renew online by logging on to www.hclib.org and clicking on "My Account." They can call their local library, which will be happy to help. Or they can renew items in person at any of the 41 libraries. Also, library patrons can sign up under "My Account" to receive an e-mailed reminder that materials they have checked out will be due soon.

Laurie Blake • 612-673-1711