Library Goes Permanently Fine Free
January 19, 2022 – When COVID-19 first began its march across the Commonwealth in 2020, public libraries across the state tried to find ways to make it easier for people to use their local library. On May 14, 2020 the board of trustees of the Boyle County Public Library voted to join this initiative by providing a one-time waiver for all patrons of overdue fines and other miscellaneous fees assessed prior to March 16, 2020, the date the library temporarily closed due to the pandemic. This one-time waiver was done to remove barriers from accessing library services and to ease financial burden, especially for those patrons who were facing pandemic-related furloughs or layoffs.
The library has continued this course of remaining fine free throughout the pandemic. “When we reviewed our circulation data in the months following the initial fine amnesty announcement in May 2020, we found that over one hundred people returned to using the library, including children,” said Library Director Georgia de Araujo. “That was an eye-opening revelation. These folks had returned the items they had borrowed, it’s just that they had returned them a bit late. Given the extreme circumstances many people were facing at that point in the pandemic, blocking library usage based on a mistake just didn’t seem reasonable.”
Recently the library board voted to make the fine free policy permanent. “After our board studied the issue, we agreed that the fine free approach is a responsible way to make the public resources of our library more available to patrons of all ages and backgrounds,” said Danville Library, Inc. Board of Trustees President Lonnie Harp.
Becoming permanently fine free means that no overdue fines will be charged to patrons even if an item is returned a little late. When combined with extended borrowing times and automatic renewals, the library has created a worry-free experience for patrons by providing ample time to return borrowed items.
“What we have seen so far tells us that our experience mirrors what hundreds of other libraries around the country have seen,” said de Araujo. “Eliminating overdue fines, coupled with our improved procedures for monitoring overdue items and notifying patrons if there is a problem, results in better access to the library collections for everyone.”
The response from patrons upon learning that the library is fine free has been understandably positive. Many are happily surprised when they discover they no longer have to worry about late fees.
To be good stewards of the library collection, however, there will still be replacement costs assessed for damaged items or for items not returned and deemed lost. So while the library is fine free, it is not responsibility-free.
“With this approach, we can still closely monitor and take action on materials that go missing or come back damaged, and when we tested this model, we saw that it brought more people into the library. Our community strongly supports a vibrant library, and we are eager to build and care for a collection that’s as accessible and inviting as possible,” said Harp.
A Clean Slate
Beginning Thursday, January 27, 2022 all items currently checked out will be automatically renewed. This means that all patrons will be given a clean slate. Any item that was checked out after July 1, 2021 will be automatically renewed one additional time, with no fines or carry-over charges on any account. This will provide an accurate, up-to-date database and a fresh start for patrons, giving them one more chance to return old materials.
In addition to going fine free, the library has also made the extended checkout periods permanent. Patrons are able to borrow DVDs for 14 days and all other materials for 28 days. With the exception of DVDs, if an item is about to become overdue, it will be automatically renewed for an additional 28 days as long as there hasn’t been a hold placed on the item. Items will be renewed twice before a reminder notice is sent.
Part of the library’s mission is to engage the community by promoting life-long literacy and learning. The permanent fine free policy, extended borrowing times, and clean slate will help to create a welcoming, worry-free environment for all patrons and ensures that library materials and resources remain accessible to all.
“We hope that this step and others encourage more people to visit the library, browse the shelves or electronic collection, and grow from the interesting and entertaining selection of books, databases, and so much more,” said Harp.