The Creston Valley Public Library is making a big change for its centennial year by eliminating fines for overdue books.
“We want people to read and improve literacy, but if we’re blocking that with our own policies, it doesn’t happen,” said chief librarian Saara Itkonen.
Until recently, youth patrons have paid 10 cents per day and adults have paid 15 cents a day on each overdue item, up to a total of $5 per item. Once fines reach $10, borrowing is suspended, and they are charged the replacement cost after six months.
Now, the library’s 3,710 active cardholders — 226 of whom have outstanding fines that have been waived — will be charged a replacement fee after an item is six months overdue, but that fee will be cleared once the item is returned.
The loss of revenue for the library is slim — about one per cent of the annual budget — and libraries that have eliminated fine report no discernable change in the return rate.
“The incentive isn’t the fines, and never was,” said Itkonen. “If they got a new book they’re excited to read, they try reading it really quickly and bring it back for the next person in line.”
The new policy allows the library to remove financial barriers for users, particularly people in vulnerable populations, which include:
•those with mental health or cognitive issues, who may have trouble managing due dates;
•youth with the financial inability to pay fines or the independent mobility to visit the library to return items;
•people living in poverty;
•people with limited digital literacy or access to technology who may not receive email reminders; and,
•those who may not be fluent English speakers.
By fining those users, “you’re targeting the very people you’re trying to assist,” said Itkonen.
Fines also create emotional barriers.
One patron used to visit the library every two weeks with their child, but hadn’t returned for over a year because they were too embarrassed to return overdue items.
Another patron hadn’t visited for 15 years because their library books had been destroyed in a domestic dispute. Itkonen looked up the patron’s account and discovered that there were no fines — but the perception that there may have been was enough to stop them from returning.
The elimination of fines also reduces the workload for library staff, as well as negative interactions with patrons, who may react with anger, frustration and shame, feeling their reliability is being attacked.
“They can do the parts of the job they love, and the important parts of the job,” said Itkonen.
It’s all part of making sure the library is a welcoming place for the whole community, particularly as its 100th anniversary nears.
“It’s the best time to say, ‘Please come back,’ ” said Itkonen.