No More Late Fees? Why We’re Taking a New Approach
by Claudine Perrault, Library Director
Libraries bring happy thoughts to mind: books, cozy chairs, storytimes. Yet some things may give a twinge of anxiety: overdues and—“oh no”—fines.
As librarians, we’re called to be responsible stewards of public funds. We’re the caretakers of the physical collection. Fines were long seen as a necessary unpleasantry to keep us all honest—or so the thinking went. Up until recently, Estes Valley Library accounts with items 15 days past due incurred a $5 fee.
And weren’t those fees a big source of Library revenue? Late fees actually account for less than 1% of revenues (0.24% to be exact). Factor in time spent managing and collecting these fees, and it’s a money-losing proposition.
Clearly, the time had come to find a new approach.
The Library Board of Trustees studied this issue carefully over several months, and based on thoughtful analysis and trends in public libraries, we’re happy to introduce a new policy.
Gone are those $5 late fees. Life happens and we understand it: work demands, family illnesses, weather issues, etc. We just want the materials back, but, more importantly, we want ‘you’ back.
This shift in approach doesn’t relieve Library users of their responsibility. In lieu of a ‘grace period’, accounts are blocked when three or more items become overdue, and/or when there’s a balance of $10 or more. If materials become thirty days past due, we send you a bill. Patrons are still responsible for the replacement costs of lost or damaged items.
Good stewardship is a value guiding this change. And there’s another value at work: the proven success of restorative practices, the very kind modeled by our program partners at Estes Valley Restorative Justice. This new policy moves the needle on the dial away from punishment (the old practice that gave everyone that twinge of anxiety) toward partnership (where we work together for everyone’s best interests).
This ‘no-fine’ approach also removes a real barrier for many of our patrons. During leaner times of the year, a $5 block can mean some families stop using the Library, depriving children of the very resources they need to succeed in school and to bring enjoyment to their lives. The fine-free approach has already been implemented at public libraries across the country. In random surveys, 80% of parents said they are more likely to let children check out materials because of fine-free policies.
One note: late fees will still be charged on items in the Lucky Day collection. These are a special collection of bestsellers and hot titles that check out for 7 days—and they’re clearly identified with a special label.
Saying goodbye to fines gives the Library an opportunity to restore our partnership with every member of the community. When more people can use the Library, and with a little less anxiety, that’s a win-win for everyone.