You'll notice that there are two items, almost identical, in this month's issue concerning libraries that have retained collection agencies to collect both long-overdue materials and fines. Both Multnomah County, OR and Irving, TX had decided to use collection agencies to recover lost library items and unpaid fines. In both cases, I would assume that the materials are more important to the library, but fines certainly can be a significant part of any recovery scheme.
Some libraries used to use "collectors" on the staff to visit the homes of people with nonreturned materials, with unpaid fines as a secondary issue. I haven't heard of any staff positions of this description recently, and I'm not surprised: when my library, BCPL, had a collector (actually, two, both part time) years ago, we found that their hourly compensation, although modest, exceeded the value of the materials collected. There were a lot of reasons for this. With two-wage-earner families, any collection efforts had to be at night, not a very good time for this kind of thing. In the case of college students, famous for nonreturn of materials, we'd find that they had gone out of state long since. There were multiple other reasons for lack of success.
We tried going to court for the most egregious cases, and we found that, with an enormous amount of paperwork and time, we always won the cases. …