Overdue fines are being assessed into history at the Soldotna Public Library. The Soldotna City Council voted Wednesday to approve an action item allowing the library to waive fees as long as an item is returned.
Library director Rachel Nash said this is a trend sweeping libraries across the nation.
“Over the last couple decades, public libraries in America have really been moving toward going fine-free. It’s become more and more apparent that they do not serve the purpose that they were originally used for, which is to encourage people to return items on time. Rather, they’re actually discouraging people from returning items or coming back at all because they’re afraid of these fines,” Nash said.
Nash said fines can disproportionately affect those who are least able to pay them.
“The people that really need to use library resources who cannot buy their own books, especially parents with young children who need lots and lots of books, they are unable to check out items when they’re having to choose between buying food for their families or paying their library fines,” she said. “Even though, to some of us, these fines seem very small they, can add up over time, particularly with children.”
On top of that, the staff time spent pursuing overdue fines costs more than the small amount taken in. Nash said that, last year, the Soldotna library took in $10,300 in fines and fees, including about $600 in overdue fines, about $400 in compensation for damaged or destroyed materials and a little from fees like issuing library cards. But librarian time is worth far more than that amount of money.
“If you really look at the time that staff spends, I like to say haggling over fines, that can take up a lot of time, especially when you’re talking about maybe only collecting I think it’s an average of six dollars,” Nash said. “And if that takes you 10, 15, 20 minutes, then it’s not really worth the effort.”
If an item is damaged or destroyed, the library will still seek a replacement fee, though it will work with patrons or even waive a fee in extenuating circumstances — there have been books lost in house fires, for instance.
For overdue items, the library will remind patrons at three days, 10 days and 20 days past the due date. At 30 days overdue, the item and a $5 processing fee will be assessed to the patron’s account and they can’t check out anything else until it’s resolved. But once a book is brought back, no matter how late, it and the patron will be welcomed, no harm, no fine, no foul.
“We really want to build positive relationships with our community members. We want to show that we trust them, so there’s that added bonus that we’re going to be connecting people in our community with the library,” Nash said.
Nash said the Soldotna library only has about a 7 percent overdue rate, whereas the national average is 14 percent.