The Baldwin Public Library is looking into whether certain — or all — fines on items returned past their due dates should be eliminated, a step taken by other library systems across the country in recent years.
“We’re interested in it,” Library Director Elizabeth Olesh said in an interview. “It’s something that some libraries are thinking about, the elimination of fines, at the very least for children. Some libraries are thinking about eliminating it altogether.”
No such policy has been proposed or voted on by the Baldwin library’s board of trustees, though members have offered support to the idea of changing the system’s late-fee policy at prior board meetings, most recently at its June 27 meeting.
Other libraries across the country have already implemented policies ranging from not fining people under 21, as is the case in Los Angeles, to getting rid of fines entirely, as the Columbus, Ohio, Metropolitan Library has done. Many that have adopted such policies have seen circulation figures rise by double-digit percentages, according to published reports.
Baldwin library trustees said at a meeting in January that there are several reasons why doing away with fines would be a good idea, according to the board’s minutes. Board President Joseph Carroll said it “would save a lot of aggravation at the circulation desk if no fines were charged.” Olesh added that it would also spare her and then Assistant Director Joan Morris from dealing with unhappy patrons.
In December, library trustees asked Olesh to look into the matter and possibly create a policy for them to consider. Olesh added that people, especially children, are often embarrassed to come back to a library if there are fees on their cards. “We don’t want children to feel like they can’t come back here,” she said. “Sometimes people just can’t afford to pay it.”
She added that library systems that no longer have fines still see materials returned either by or shortly after the due date.
One of the negatives of implementing such a policy would be a decrease in the library system’s revenue. “Fines do represent a source of income for us,” Olesh said. “And with the tax cap, that makes it even harder for us to raise money.”
But, the director added, the amount of money brought in by fines is on a downward trend anyway. Olesh said that about $20,000 in fines had been accrued as of May for the 2017-18 fiscal year, which ended on June 30. According to library budget documents, officials had anticipated $29,900 in fees for 2017-18. They are anticipating $26,000 in 2018-19.
One of the reasons for the dip in fines at Baldwin is the rise in popularity of electronic and audio books, which do not have to be physically returned to the library.
“When you check those out, you’re just locked out of it at the due date, so there is no late fine,” Olesh explained. “The more popular those become, the less fines that are going to be paid.”
Still, the library will need to bring in extra revenue. Olesh said one possibility would be to make the Baldwin library a passport acceptance facility, where people could fill out applications to renew or get new passports. “We are permitted to charge an execution fee for that,” the director said, adding that it would allow the system to offset the loss in revenue without having to create another punitive charge. “If that becomes a popular service, that could be one way we replace the money lost with the fines.”
Olesh said it could be a few months before the board votes on the matter, noting, “This is a process.”