Starting this year, borrowing books from the library will be considerably cheaper.
Beginning on January 3, 2023, The Allen County Public Library (ACPL) suspended its late fees for overdue book returns, eliminating its late fee system entirely.
“When a person has a fine, that can turn into shame, and that can keep them from returning to the library or getting any more books,” said Aja Michael-Keller, Director of Communications for the ACPL. “Plus, when someone has a fine, sometimes, they just won’t return the book.
“So, we get them back as a patron, and we get all those overdue books back on our shelves.”
The initiative by the ACPL is just part of a movement by library systems nationwide to do away with late fees and fines. About two years ago, the New York Public Library dropped its late fees and cleared its patrons’ debt because the “exclusionary impact of fines and card blocks often disproportionally affected low-income families.”
Other large systems that eliminated fees included Chicago, San Francisco, Boston, and Los Angeles County.
One library official in New Jersey noted that dropping fees guarantees that everyone can benefit from the library’s mission – to educate and inform the public.
“The public library is a community service and a common good,” said Andy Woodworth, a New Jersey librarian who runs the advocacy website End Library Fines. “And one should always seek ways to increase access so that everyone can participate.”
Michael-Keller noted that such an idea was one of the reasons behind the ACPL’s move, as well, especially since many of the library’s users could be faced with tighter budgets in today’s difficult economic climate.
In addition, the fines and fees don’t represent very much revenue for the library, anyway.
“It’s really not a huge source of revenue and we spend more money trying to collect the fees than we ever get back,” Michael-Keller said. She noted that by and large, for every $1 spent trying to collect a late fee, libraries will usually spend more than $1 pursuing that money – printing up notices and buying stamps to mail overdue users.
Additionally, the late fee money isn’t a significant portion of the ACPL’s revenue.
“And overdue fines represent less than one-half of one percent of our overall budget,” Michael-Keller said. “If you look at the numbers, it just doesn’t make financial sense.”
Michael-Keller noted that patrons already put up money for the use of the library by paying their state and local taxes, so why charge them again?
“They’ve already paid for it with their tax dollars, so we want them to use the resources they’ve paid for.”
Under the old fee structure, patrons who kept books past their due dates were charged $.25 a day; late media such as CDs and DVDs would cost users $1 each day they were late.
The only remnant of the old fee structure is if a patron never returns a book or borrowed item; then, the user will be charged the full cost of that item, library officials said.
Michael-Kelller noted that even with that rule in place, people still have been returning long-past over-due items.
“We’ve really seen no increase in the need to replace items,” she said. “People are still returning things that are overdue.”
Michael-Keller said the entire idea behind suspending the late fees was not just to get the library out of the collection business, but to get them back through the library doors again.
“Our goal is to get books in people’s hands, not to collect fines,” she said.
“This removes the barrier so that people can get back to using the library again.”