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Library fines removed to widen access, circulation

Arlington's libraries have joined a growing national trend by removing overdue fines on materials borrowed at the Robbins and Fox.

Overdue fines ended as of Valentine's Day, but patrons who don't return a book have to pay to keep them. The same is true of lost or damaged materials, and borrowers will be billed.

The library will continue to issue date-due and overdue notices. After the final overdue notice, borrowers will receive a bill for the cost of the material by email or mail.

Fees vary by type of material, and revenue collected for lost or damaged materials gets deposited in the town’s general fund. In the last fiscal year, overdue fine revenue totaled $36,302.

Why get rid of overdue fines?

Andrea Nicolay, the director of libraries, ticked off the reasons for removing fines:

● Eliminating fines helps close the opportunity gap: families and individuals with limited or fixed income depend on the materials that libraries offer. Fines hinder library use.

● Fines do not accrue on e-books and e-audiobooks, which creates inequality between those who borrow digital materials and those who borrow physical materials. Digital borrowing has increased since becoming available and continues to increase.

● When fines disappear, library use goes up. Many public libraries have already changed their policies and are now fine-free, including libraries in Andover, Chelmsford, Dover, Reading, Weymouth and Woburn. Outside Massachusetts, libraries in Albany, Baltimore, Denver, Nashville and Salt Lake City have gone fine-free and have seen increases in circulation and patron registrations.

It’s been proven that fines are not an effective incentive to return materials on time. In fact people with the means to pay fines often keep materials past the due date simply because they can, which creates yet more inequality.

“By eliminating fines, we’re making the library easier to use than ever,” Nicolay said in a Feb. 14 news release. “People who fear fines and don’t have library cards are underserved. There are also many misconceptions about fines, and that creates barriers too. We want everyone to feel good about using their library cards.”

Exceptions to the general fine-free practice will include in-house circulating equipment, such as laptops, as well as non-Minuteman Library Network interlibrary loan materials; for example, a book lent from a library in California to an Arlington patron.

Frequently asked questions

Will taxes increase because the library is eliminating overdue fines?

Going fine-free does not impact taxes. Library fines have historically represented less than 0.03 percent of annual revenue to the town’s general fund, and total fines collected per year have steadily decreased with the rise in digital library use (e-books, e-audiobooks, streaming video through Kanopy).

Will overdue fines be waived on ALL materials?

Overdue fines will not be waived on in-library use equipment (laptops, keyboards, mice) or on Comcat/Worldcat interlibrary loan items (aka non-Minuteman Library Network materials).

How does the library get people to return borrowed materials without charging fines?

“No overdue fines” does not mean “no responsibility.” Due dates still apply, and borrowers owe it to other library users to bring materials back in a timely manner. Borrowing privileges are suspended once a patron owes $10 in billed items.

What is the timeline for when an overdue item becomes a billed item?

Overdue Notices are generated after items are at least 14 days overdue, and are delivered via email, text, or mail depending on user preference. Bills are generated two weeks after the overdue notice, or four or more weeks after the item is due.

What if I return an item for which I’ve been billed?

The bill (replacement cost) is removed from the account.

Will I be charged overdue fees for items owned by other Minuteman Library Network libraries?

Items that are checked out at the Robbins Library or Fox Branch Library will not accrue overdue fines, regardless of where the material came from within the Minuteman Library Network.

The fine-free library trend

Asked by YourArlington when the fine-free trend began, Nicolay could not pinpoint it, but provided the following links for recommended reading/viewing:

“Albany Public Library to Eliminate Late Fines.” Lucas, Dave. WAMC Northeast Report, December 10, 2018.
“Denver Public Library is closing a chapter on fines and overdue books and goodies.” Hernandez, Elizabeth. The Denver Post, December 5, 2018.
“The Fine Free Library: One Year Later.” The Salt Lake City Public Library, August 9, 2018.
“More libraries are going fine-free--and that’s a good thing.” Editorial Board. Washington Post, June 17, 2018.
“A librarian’s case against overdue book fines.” Wacek, Dawn. TEDxUWLaCrosse, February 2018.
“Libraries Are Dropping Overdue Fines—But Can They Afford To?” Fallon, Claire. Huffington Post, May 15, 2017.
“Doing Fine(s)? Fines and Fees.” Dixon, Jennifer A. & Gillis, Steven A. Library Journal, April 4, 2017.
“The End of Overdue Fines?” Pyatetsky, Julia. Public Libraries Online, November 5, 2015.

This information, which is newsworthy and reflects a viewpoint, was published Friday, Feb. 15, 2019.

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