Teton County Library wants to eliminate late fees.
A 45-day public comment period has opened for a change in library policy that would zero out late fees for all materials. All changes to library policy must be opened for comment before they can go into effect. Feedback can be sent to email@example.com, and if adopted the changes would go into effect in June.
The library suspended fines at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, and “at this point I really think it’s probably time to just memorialize that,” interim library Director Deb Adams told the library board at its March 18 meeting.
Going fine-free is a trend across the country. The American Library Association passed a resolution in November 2019 that labeled fines “a form of social inequity” because the people most likely to incur fines and therefore stop using library services are the same ones who stand to benefit the most from those offerings.
Across the U.S., many patrons who have fines simply hang on to the materials and stop using the library so they don’t have to pay the fees. Some who ascribe to punitive measures as a form of generating compliance may disagree with the move, but NPR reported in 2019 that the Chicago Public Library system saw a 240% increase in the return of overdue materials once fines were eliminated.
“In general, overdue fines are not really an incentive for people to bring materials back,” Adams told the board March 18.
Instead, not allowing someone to check new materials out until they have returned their old ones appears to be a stronger incentive, she said. Fines are a part of Teton County Library’s budget, but they only comprise 0.5% of its total revenue, and, according to Adams, their removal won’t have much impact on the library’s bottom line.
The library is also eliminating postage and other fees for interlibrary loans. It will offer them for free, charge a $5 fine for all items that are not picked up, and cap such materials at 20 per month. The Teton County Library Foundation has offered to cover the costs of interlibrary loans so they can be offered for free.
At the March 18 meeting, the library board voted to change the library’s hours. Starting May 2, it will be open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday.