Extending our Fine-Free Approach for the Rest of 2020

At the onset of the pandemic we automatically renewed materials so customers would not incur any fees while they were sheltering in place. The Library’s Board of Trustees met on Tuesday and voted to waive fines for the rest of the calendar year, as a means of promoting equity and helping residents save some cash during these challenging economic times. This measure includes:

  • A complete amnesty for past fines. This does not include fees for lost or unreturned items, only fines. The Library will resume the practice of charging for lost items when we are back to full-service. 
  • Raising or removing the dollar barrier limit for outstanding fees on lost items that bars a customer from being able to borrow new materials. 
  • Raising the threshold for an overdue account to be sent to a collection agency. 

We are working out the details for the above, but wanted to share the general news with you now. Customers will not see any immediate changes to their accounts. Once we have the logistics worked out, we will share them with the public and with customers. 

Overdue fines prevent some people from checking out books and other materials, or even from visiting the library, which undermines the library’s overall mission of connecting people to the world of ideas and information. Studies have shown that fines can disproportionately impact low-income families, driving away the people who stand to benefit greatly from free library resources. 

Libraries that have already gone fine-free have reported positive results. Chicago Public Library saw a 240% increase in return of materials within three weeks of implementing its fine-free policy last year, and also had 400 more library card renewals compared with that time the previous year. 

For several years many public libraries, including several in Ohio and Northern Kentucky, have been eliminating fines for overdue materials. At the end of the year, the Library will evaluate the impact of no overdue fines in 2020 and determine whether to make fine-free a permanent practice. Becoming a fine-free library may be a logical next step, as we implemented automatic renewals in 2019, which has helped customers avoid fines. Additionally, the increasing use of eBooks and audiobooks has led to fewer overdue fines, because these materials are automatically removed from a customer’s device on the set due date. 

While it is true that fines provide a small source of revenue for libraries, some are finding out that the expense is greater than the revenue. In San Diego, a review revealed that the city spent nearly $1 million to collect $675,000 in library fines each year. 

As we gather information in 2020 to determine whether or not to make fine-free a permanent option, it is important to note: 

  • Any change will not eliminate all financial consequences for failure to return materials. 
  • We will continue billing for lost and damaged items. 

Regardless of the outcome of this pilot effort, we are committed to removing barriers to access to our materials and services to help level opportunities for everyone in our community.  As always, we thank you for your support and look forward to serving you in both old and new ways during this public health crisis and beyond.

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