bloomington

Monroe County public libraries could be cutting late fees. Their trustees will vote Wednesday.



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A book returns slot reads, “Insert one at a time,” Jan. 13 in the Monroe County Public Library. The library board will discuss eliminating late fees at its upcoming meeting. Alex Deryn

Late-return fees could be going away at Monroe County libraries.

The Monroe County Public Library Board of Trustees will meet to further discuss and vote on a proposal to go entirely fine-free at 5:45 p.m. Wednesday at the Ellettsville Branch Library.

The idea of going fine-free was originally discussed Jan. 8 at a Board of Trustees meeting and was proposed by administration members at the MCPL, including Director Marilyn Wood.

“It’s been in conversation for a few years,” Wood said. “We want everyone to be able to take advantage of our services.”

This proposal comes after administration at the MCPL in Bloomington noticed a national trend of more libraries going fine-free, according to Chris Jackson, special audiences strategist at the MCPL. 

“Smaller libraries have been taking this step for the past few years,” Jackson said.

Fees would no longer apply to anything people can check out at the library, including books, CDs and more. Currently, there are no late fees applied to children’s collections or outreach service points, which are used to provide residents of assisted-living and senior-living facilities with library materials. Jackson said this is because those who would typically use those services are unable to pay late fees anyway.

“We know late fees are a barrier to access to a significant number of people in the community,” Jackson said.

Jackson said fines were intended to be something that encourage people to learn timeliness, but fees often discourage people from returning to the library. As of now, if a person accumulates more than $20 in late fees, they are unable to check anything else out until they pay their late fees. Coming to the library may become difficult for some who may be unable to afford those fees, Jackson said. 

Grier Carson, access and content services manager at the MCPL, said there is no evidence showing late fees actually encourage timely returns. 

The MCPL and the Ellettsville Branch Library collect approximately $50,000 from late fees every year. Jackson said collecting that money comes with its own cost because it’s labor intensive and can be difficult to explain to customers why they have to pay the fees.

Fee waivers and are something library staff members address on a daily basis, and they try to be understanding of difficult circumstances, Jackson said. Oftentimes, people owe late fees for reasons beyond their control, such as a book being packed away during a move and the person not being able to access it until after it’s due, Jackson said. 

“They don’t live by a due date — they just forget sometimes,” Carson said. “Instead of applying punitive charges, all we care about is that you return it.”

Jackson said the library sees giving up $50,000 a year in revenue as a good thing because it allows for a better relationship with the community. Carson said the amount of money from late fees isn’t a large enough part of the library’s yearly budget to make a difference — it makes up less than 1 percent of it. 

Jackson said customers have often asked for late fees to be waived.

“It is absolutely responding to customer demand,” Jackson said. 

There will still be consequences for returning library items late, Jackson said. If an item is more than three weeks past its due date, the customer will be billed for the cost to replace that item. For example, a book can be checked out for three weeks but must be returned within six weeks to avoid a replacement fee.  

Wood said she doesn’t see any issues with going fine-free. She said it benefited the MCPL to propose the change later than other libraries because they were able to learn from other’s experiences. 

Jackson said the administration at MCPL expects the board to pass the proposal. The proposal includes the main branch in Bloomington, the Ellettsville Branch Library, Bookmobile services and outreach vans. 

If passed, the change will go into effect March 1. Fines would stop accumulating Jan. 16. Jackson said some people would see changes to fees on their accounts before March 1. Existing unpaid overdue fines will be waived. All replacement fees over six years old will be waived as well. 

Carson said this year is the library’s 200th birthday and he sees going fine-free as a good way to celebrate. 

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