Teton County Library

There’s still time to weigh in on Teton County Library’s proposal to eliminate late fines and interlibrary loan fees.

Library staff proposed dropping the fees to make materials more accessible, saying the revenue from fines is negligible (0.11% of the budget) and the Teton County Library Foundation has offered to cover the costs of interlibrary loans. Changes to policy must allow 45 days for public comment. So public input will be accepted through May 17.

Interim Library Director Deb Adams told the Library Board at its regular monthly meeting on Thursday that she plans to present a final tally of respondents in May.

At least 20 people had sent in comments as of Thursday’s meeting, according to board documents. Of those 13 favored the change, while seven opposed it. Supporters described the fines as an undue barrier to lower-income patrons who might be negatively affected by a fine and choose to stop using the library.

“I don’t believe libraries should be accessible to those who can easily afford late fees and see them as a minor annoyance rather than a detriment to their ability to utilize the library at all,” Anne Marie Wells wrote.

Under the proposed changes, the library would automatically renew materials unless patrons have reached their maximum number of renewals or someone else has a hold on the item. At that point the patron with the checked out item would have his or her “borrowing privileges” suspended until the item is returned or paid for, if lost. This has been the library’s policy during the pandemic.

Studies and the experiences of other libraries have shown eliminating fines can actually increase the return of overdue materials, as people no longer fear the financial hit. That includes a 240% increase in such returns after the Chicago Public Library system eliminated fines, as well as a bump in checked-out materials.

However, several commenters wrote that they worry people will stop returning the materials without a punitive measure, though the policy does freeze the ability to check out new materials. Others asserted the library’s fine system, in addition to facilitating returns, was a significant source of teaching Jackson’s youth accountability.

“Actions in life have consequences,” Rebecca Bextel wrote. “A person should pay a fine when they keep library materials too long. Kids need to learn these valuable lessons early in life.”

Commenter David Pullium agreed, citing his lack of faith in the community’s bad actors.

“We should retain the critical lessons of teaching citizens the positive benefits of pro-communal behavior rather than creating an incentive structure for selfish behavior,” he wrote. “And you are giving the green light to the small number of real scoundrels who will absolutely abuse the new rules and steal books with impunity.”

Comments may be sent to board@tclib.org until May 17.

Contact Tom Hallberg at 732-7079 or thallberg@jhnewsandguide.com.

Tom Hallberg covers a little bit of everything, from skiing to long-form feature stories. A Teton Valley, Idaho, transplant by way of Portland and Bend, Oregon, he spends his time outside work writing fiction, splitboarding and climbing.

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