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Survey on Fines Free Policy

The Library Board will soon be considering a Fines Free Policy. No longer charging late fees, just billing for "lost" items not returned if 3 months overdue. Let us know what you think!

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This week, the New York Public Library system, the largest in the U.S., announced that it will no longer charge fines on overdue material — a change intended to level the playing field for all library-goers. Read more about the move here:
NYPL is joining a national trend that has been picking up steam in recent years and aims to decrease financial barriers that some argue have a disproportionate impact on low-income communities. Some research has shown that late fines have no impact on return rates and  may be counterproductive to library service to the community by having the unintended consequence of preventing vulnerable populations from using the library.
In 2019, the American Library Association adopted “a resolution of monetary fines as a form of social inequity” at its midwinter meeting. Some of our library partners in the Sage Library System, and beyond in Oregon, have also gone Fines Free in recent years, including Cook Memorial Library in La Grande, Hood River County Library, and Multnomah County Library in Portland.
At Baker County Library District, our Library Board has considered a Fines Free policy in the past but decided against it at the time based on board member consensus that late fees help teach responsibility and accountability. With the growing number of libraries dropping fines, we'd like to know:
What are your thoughts? Would you be happier and use the library more with less worry about accruing late fines? The Library Board would appreciate your opinion with this SHORT SURVEY.
Note: BCLD collects about $10,000 from late fees each year, which is 1% of the library budget. Late fees rates are set at a minimum to recover the postage and handling costs of sending overdue notices and processing payments, so eliminating them would not severely impact the budget. For lost/damaged items not paid within 3 months, an outside "Materials Recovery Service"/Collections Agency is used to handle pursuit of replacement costs that total to more than $40.
If adopted, BCLD would seek to implement the recommendations in the report from San Francisco Public Library, including:

  • Extend the fine-free policy to all patron types
  • Maintain billed item fees and accelerate billed item status (delinquent accounts referred to Materials Recovery Service / Collections Agency)
  • Increase frequency of electronically delivered overdue notices
  • Introduce limited automatic renewal
  • Communicate fine elimination proactively to patrons and community

Generally, under new fine-free policies being considered:

  • Baker County Library users of all ages would no longer need to pay any late fines on overdue materials. Old unpaid late fines would be waived. Currently, library cards are blocked if they accrue $5 or more in fines; that would no longer be the case.
  • Baker County Library users would still need to pay replacement fees if they lose or damage material. Materials would be considered lost and billed after being overdue for about one month. If materials are returned within 6 months of being past due, however, no fees would apply.
  • Cards would be blocked from borrowing additional physical materials if patrons accrue replacement fees; note that even with a block on their cards, patrons could still access computers, e-books, and other digital services.

For more information and debate about Fines Free library policies, see:

"Why Have Libraries Gone Fine-free The Past Few Years?"ALA Intellectual Freedom Blog. Sep 9 2021.

"Why Are Libraries Eliminating Late Fees?" June 21 2021.

"Cook Memorial Library shelves overdue fines." The Observer [La Grande]. Mar 8 2021

"No more library fines [for La Grande] beginning this Thursday." Elkhorn Media Group. March 30th, 2021.

"Hood River County Library District becomes 'fine free' in February". Columbia Gorge News. Jan 26 2021.

"Why Some Libraries Are Ending Fines." The Atlantic. Dec 4 2020.

"Multnomah County Library permanently ends late fines, wipes away more than $700,000 owed by library users." The Oregonian. Jul 1 2020.

"As Philly mulls eliminating library late fees, two librarians debate the pros and cons | Opinion.". The Philadelphia Inquirer. October 22, 2019.

"Fine-Free Policies Report." Library Connection, Inc. Oct 15 2019.

"Athena library ditches late fines." East Oregonian. Jun 27 2019.

"Not So Fine with Library Fines? A Look at the Overdue Debate." Ebscopost. February 27, 2019.

"Doing Away With Fines" American Libraries. June 25, 2017

"Removing Barriers to Access: Eliminating Library Fines and Fees on Children’s Materials." Colorado State Library. 2015.