By Christine Bryant
If returning your overdue library books slipped your mind, the Southwest Public Libraries has some good news. As of Oct. 1, the library no longer implements overdue fines for late books.
The move comes after several library systems in the state have opted to go fine-free to help erase barriers to library use.
“Fines tend to keep patrons away, whether from embarrassment or an inability to pay,” said Katie Puckett, technology services librarian. “We want to break barriers to access and encourage people to use and return to the library.”
Puckett says research has shown fines may discourage people from using or returning to the library, and can be punitive to the most active and loyal patrons. They also can affect low-income households disproportionately, she said.
Committee examined cost to library
Before approving this change in policy, a Southwest Public Libraries committee and the library’s board of trustees examined what the loss of revenue would mean for the system.
They found that overdue fine revenue had been steadily decreasing over the past five years, and at the time of policy approval, fines made up less than 0.5 percent of library revenue.
A majority of the library’s funding comes from two sources: the Public Library Fund from Ohio’s General Revenue Fund, and the 1-mill local property tax passed in November 2010.
In 2018, Ohio public libraries received 1.68 percent of Ohio’s General Revenue Fund, Puckett said. Of this amount, Southwest Public Libraries received nearly $3.15 million last year.
The property tax levy generated just under $2.5 million for the library’s operating budget in 2018. Puckett said voters will be asked to renew this levy in March. If the measure passes, it will not result in a tax increase, but will continue this funding stream for the library.
All other sources of funding for the library, including fines, fees for damaged or lost materials, donations and interest accounted for less than 5 percent total of the library’s budget, she said.
Replacement fees still intact
Although overdue fines have been discontinued, this new policy does not mean patrons can keep the books they borrow.
“Patrons still need to return library materials so that others can have access to them,” Puckett said. “We have just removed the daily overdue fine, but patrons who fail to return items will eventually have their accounts blocked and be charged for the replacement cost of the item. This has not changed from past policy.”
The policy states: Accounts will be blocked if patrons do not return items within three weeks of their due date. Accounts will remain blocked until patrons return the overdue items.
The library will charge patrons the replacement cost for any lost or damaged materials or for materials that are five weeks overdue.
The library can send patron accounts to a materials recovery agency, and a $12 non-negotiable fee will be added to their accounts when materials are seven weeks overdue.
“If the patron has been charged for the replacement cost of overdue materials, simply returning the items to the library will automatically take the cost of the materials off of their account,” Puckett said.
However, if an account has been sent to materials recovery, the patron is still responsible for the $12 fee that the library is charged by the recovery agency, she said.
Library actively used
Last year, Southwest Public Libraries had 77,707 registered patrons. The library system also reported:
•251,972 public computer and wireless sessions used
•516,776 visits to the library by patrons
•1,710,486 total circulations of both physical and electronic materials
“The mission of Southwest Public Libraries is to serve as the community’s center for lifelong learning, not keep people away,” said Mark Shaw, director of Southwest Public Libraries.
Puckett says keeping overdue fines in place, which in the past have accounted for a small percentage of revenue in the library’s overall budget, goes against the library’s goal of providing a community resource, especially for those who need it the most.
“It just seems punitive to charge patrons for using us when we are supposed to provide free and equal access to all,” she said.