Checking out DVDs from the library is free -- until it isn't

Checking out DVDs from the library is free -- until it isn'tNow that Americans borrow more DVDs at the library than they rent at Netflix, according to a survey published in the Consumerist, WalletPop would like to warn you of the steep late fines lurking at your local branch. We're talking amounts that can be expressed in the Dewey Decimal system if you're not careful.

Check this out: The New York Public Library just increased its $1-a-day late DVD fee to a whopping $3 a day. "We want to encourage turnover," spokeswoman Gayle Snible told WalletPop.

New York charges a relatively modest 25 cents-a-day for books. The reason for the disparity isn't because DVDs cost more than books. A hardcover in fact can sometimes cost more. It's because DVDs are more in demand than books, Victoria Galan, spokeswoman for the Miami-Dade Public Library System, explained to WalletPop.

"We look at the popularity of things and that impacts the fee schedule," she said. "DVDs, those are the hot items. The idea is to get them back on the shelf so the other people who are waiting for them can get them."

Miami-Dade Public dings you for 50 cents a day -- a substantial rate given its 10-cent-a day book penalty. Plus, the DVD checkout duration is a mere seven days compared to 28 days for books. (New York's is seven days for most DVDS and three weeks for most books.)

Just how hot are DVDs at libraries nationwide? Libraries lend 2.1 million a day, beating Netflix (2 million) plus the combined total of Redbox (1.4 million) and Blockbuster (1.2 million), according to the Online Computer Library Center study.

Galan said DVD checkouts have accelerated since the financial crisis. Most libraries allow online renewal if nobody's waiting for the movie, so take advantage of that option if you can't make it to your local branch by the due date.

Be extra careful if you live in Chicago, where you can expect to pay $2 a day, or in Los Angeles, where the fine is $1 a day but the circulation is only two days for some films. Philadelphia and St. Louis are also a buck a day.

Snible reminds borrowers that the DVDs are free -- until you're late.

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