Library board joins trend eliminating fines

By LEANN BURKE
lburke@dcherald.com

If you’ve got late fees on your account at the Jasper-Dubois County Public Library, here’s some good news: They’re about to be wiped away.

The Dubois County Contractual Library Board and the Jasper Public Library Board voted at their meetings Thursday to eliminate fines for overdue items and clear any outstanding balances, becoming the latest library to take the action that has become common practice in the past few years. Board members and library staff hope that eliminating fines will remove barriers to library use for some people.

Library Director Christine Golden said it’s not uncommon for staff members to hear parents limit the number of books their children can check out or say no to DVDs in an effort to avoid late fees. That’s not what librarians want to hear.

“I want to make sure that anyone who wants access to the library has it,” Golden said.

The Jasper-Dubois County Public Library serves most of Dubois County — of the county’s five libraries, only the Huntingburg Public Library is not part of the system — and patrons are able to check materials out at any of the four branches. Golden figures the move to a fine-free system will be most helpful for patrons in the county’s rural areas who may only come into town once a week. Now, holding on to materials until that weekly trip won’t mean incurring any fees.

The decision to eliminate fines came after a few years of research by library staff. That research included looking at how much revenue late fees brought into the library. According to graphs tracking fine revenue between 2015 and 2018, fine revenue has dropped steadily over the past few years and continues to trend down.

“That is, in my opinion, not reflective of our circulation going down,” Golden said. “It’s reflective of a change in the way we’re doing business.”

The library’s system is now set up to email patrons a day before their items are due with a link to renew. Golden figures those emails are a major contributor to the fall in fine revenues. She also credits the drop to longer check out periods and the ability to renew DVDs and video games.

As it stands, late fees make up about 1% of the library’s total budget, and Golden already knows how to move money around within her budget to make up for the loss.

“It’s not a reliable source of income,” Golden said.

Library staff also researched circulation trends for libraries that have eliminated late fees. In most cases, Golden said, the libraries saw circulation increase because patrons no longer had to worry about late fees.

Nearby, the Evansville Public Library and the Floyd County Public Library have eliminated late fees. Golden said she talked to Floyd County’s staff, and they encouraged her to make the move.

While the library is eliminating late fees, they are not eliminating patron responsibility. When a patron fails to return an item, his or her account will still be locked until the item is returned and weekly notices will be sent to the patron’s email. At 35 days overdue, the system will recognize the items as lost and apply the replacement cost to the patron’s account. After 60 days, any balances of $50 or more will be turned over to a collection agency. However, patrons can return overdue items at any time and have the fees removed.

“We want people to use our services,” Golden said. “They’re already paying for them [through taxes].”

Patrons will still have to pay to replace any damaged items, and inter-library loan items, which are the property of other libraries, are still subject to fines.




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