During the Aug. 10 meeting of the Cincinnati & Hamilton County Public Library Board of Trustees, board members agreed to end the practice of issuing fines for overdue items. Fines for late items had previously been suspended at the start of the pandemic, and then this practice was later extended through 2020 by the Library Board of Trustees. This latest decision makes the suspension of late fines permanent, with a few important changes customers need to know about. This change went into effect Sept. 26, 2021.
While we’ve received overwhelmingly positive feedback about being late fine-free, we did learn that in some cases overdue books have led to longer wait times for customers to receive materials that have waiting lists. For this reason, we are making some changes to ensure that materials are returned in a timely manner. Details about borrowing Library materials can be found in our online FAQ, but some key points are:
- Reminders to customers that their item is overdue are sent by phone, text, or email at five days and 12 days overdue.
- At 30 days overdue, customers receive a bill for items that have not been returned and have been classified as “lost.” Previously, customers did not receive a bill until an item was overdue for 45 days.
- The Library locks a customer’s account if any item is 12 days overdue, meaning no additional physical items (books, magazines, DVDs, CDs, etc.) can be checked out until either the overdue item is returned or the customer has paid the replacement fee for it. Customer accounts will also be blocked from renewing or placing holds until the overdue item is resolved.
- Once unpaid replacement fees reach $50 and remain at $50 or above for 30 days or longer, customers are referred to a collection agency.
These changes do not apply to library cards that have never had late fees associated with them, such as Child-Only, Teen-Only, Adult-Only, Educator, and Book Club cards.
Positive Interactions, Revenue Impact Contribute to Decision
A report to the Board of Trustees submitted by a group of staff tasked with evaluating the impact of eliminating late fines stated that, “It is our recommendation that, because fine monies were less than 1 percent of revenue, staff time spent collecting and processing payments was high, and not having late fines has contributed to more positive interactions between customers and staff, the Library remain late fine-free…”
The report also stated, “An increasing number of public libraries across the country are taking an overdue fine-free approach to service. This includes eight out of 11 neighboring libraries, and more than 60 percent of libraries we often look at as peers, including Columbus Metropolitan Library, Cleveland Public Library, Dayton Metro Library, Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, along with the public libraries for the cities of Chicago, Indianapolis, Lexington, and Louisville.”
"Fines Can Be Heartbreaking"
Locally, Pamela Nelson Martin and her great-grandson Adrion are glad to see the Library offering a more flexible approach to late materials. They are library lovers who, over the years, have come to the Main Library frequently, sometimes daily.
“Whether the Library has fines or not, I am always careful to return materials on time. Fines can be heartbreaking for people, especially for those on a fixed income. Sometimes people get sick or have other life issues that lead to overdue fines,” said Nelson Martin. “I have always loved coming to the Library with Adrion and fines shouldn’t get in the way. Why should fines lead to $80 or more? The Library is our special place to go for us.”
Paula Brehm-Heeger, the Eva Jane Romaine Coombe Library Director, said, “Our goal is to connect everyone in the community to the materials they want. This latest decision by the Board of Trustees will help us achieve that goal.”
For further information, read the complete board report regarding this action.