Libraries across the country are ditching overdue fees after finding that the penalties drive away the people who stand to benefit the most from free library resources.
Libraries have found that fines disproportionately deter low-income residents and children. Acknowledging these consequences, the American Library Association passed a resolution in January in which it recognizes fines as “a form of social inequity” and calls on libraries nationwide to find a way to eliminate their fines.
Bloomington Public Library has already taken big steps toward fine forgiveness. The library waived over $317,000 in fines in March and April as part of its transition to a new online catalog and library management system, said Director Jeanne Hamilton.
The waived fees have been well-received by patrons, Hamilton said Monday on The 21st show. While Fresh Start was a one-time program, she said it’s had a lasting impact on how staff approach those with fines on their account. Staff are now encouraged to discuss fines individually with patrons. Is a payment plan possible? Can you pay some now and the library will forgive the rest?
“It was very freeing for (the staff),” Hamilton said. “They saw the joy they were able to impact in patrons’ lives. And so now we see a shift in attitude. Before, maybe there was a little bit of fear that, if I waive these fines, maybe they’ll take advantage of the system. We’re seeing that fear drop away, and they’re very willing to work with patrons.”
For large-dollar fines, staff can ask their managers for guidance, she said.
In addition to the $317,000 in waived fees, Hamilton said another $369,349 in older lost-item and processing fees were waived as the library left its old system. Some of that money dated back to 1996 and was considered uncollectable, she said. The library collects around $60,000 in fines and fees each year, she said.
“We’ve had a really great response,” Hamilton said of Fresh Start.
NPR’s Emma Bowman contributed to this report.