By Curt Yeomans
Study guides for tests, such as the SAT and ACT, are only in the Clayton County Library System for roughly three months.
Officials from the Henry County Library System are frequently having to replace self-help books.
The books are the victims of people who check out the publications, but never return them. On average, there are about 2,000 overdue books every month in Clayton County, representing 3 percent of all books checked out during the year. Henry County officials believe there are "several thousands" of overdue books every month in their system.
"It's quite a problem all across the nation," said George Hazelton, assistant director of public services for the Henry County Library System. "It can really be an inconvenience, if it is a book that is in high demand. The next person on the waiting list can't get the book, and they become very upset when that happens. Also, we're left with a hole in our collection."
Most of the books that fall into the "overdue" category, in both counties, are missing from a library anywhere between two weeks and a month. Some books are never brought back to the libraries, though. The most common books that aren't brought back are study guides and how-to books covering subjects such as cooking, starting a business and resume writing.
Books of baby names and wedding guides are also high on the list of those that aren't returned.
Officials with both library systems have turned to offering the study guides online, since they've had to replace the paperback versions of the books so often. In Clayton County alone, a study guide typically remains in circulation for roughly three months before it disappears. The libraries still have some paperback versions available, but the online guides are now the main source available to patrons.
"By having them online, we're not disappointing the next person, and, more importantly, we don't have to keep buying new copies," said Carol Stewart, director of library services in Clayton County.
Some people will check out several books with the intention of starting up a business and never return the books. In Henry County, where as many as 50 books can be checked out at once, the problem can be costly.
"We did have one woman who checked out 30 to 40 cookbooks, and then skipped town," Hazelton said. "At $25 to $30 a pop, you're talking about several hundreds of dollars worth of books.
"We eventually heard from someone who said the woman wanted to start her own bakery."
Hazelton also said there are several reasons why a person may not return a book on time. In some cases, the person forgot about the book, or it got lost in his or her home or vehicle. Sometimes, a crisis, such as a person being admitted to the hospital, or his or her house burning down, causes the book to become permanently lost, or severely overdue.
"With genuine fires, or cases of hospitalization, we do try to work with the person," Hazelton said. "We've had some people who've had their house burn down every six months, though, and it's like 'yeah, right.' Other times, people just deny they checked the book out. Someone used their library card to get the book, though."
Stewart said people moving away from the address they have on file is one of the problems her library system faces when trying to retrieve overdue books. There are 1,296 books currently checked out from the Clayton County Library System that have been overdue for 15 to 30 days. There are others that have been gone for up to six months.
"They're gone," Stewart said. "We've tried to track down the people, who checked the books out, but they no longer live at the addresses we have on file. That's the problem you have in a county where there's a lot of people frequently moving around."
Library officials in Clayton County try to encourage people to bring back overdue books by keeping the fees low. The cost to keep a book past it's due date is 10 cents a day, with a maximum fine of $5, so people won't be discouraged from returning the book. In Henry County, the maximum fine is $10 for a book.
In both counties, the patron's library card will be suspended, if the cumulative fine for all books exceeds $10. In Clayton, the patron also can't use computers at any library branch until he or she returns the books and pays the fines.
If a book is not returned within six months of its check-out date, Henry County refers the case to Unique Management, a collection agency that works specifically with libraries.
"This is public property, so when people check a book out and don't return it, it's theft, pure and simple," Hazelton said.