For centuries, libraries have offered an amazing deal to the American people: Cardholders can check out any book in the building for free, provided that it’s returned by the due date. Now Slate reports that libraries around the country are making this deal even sweeter by eliminating late fees.
The pushback against fines may sound like a recipe for anarchy to some book lovers, but the librarians behind it insist it stays in line with their core mission. Penalties for overdue books have the biggest impact on poor patrons, the very people librarians most want using their services. According to the Children’s Literacy Foundation, 61 percent of low-income families don’t have age-appropriate books at home. The same organization states that one in six kids who aren’t reading proficiently by the third grade won’t graduate high school on time. By not charging late fees or banning members outright when they lose a book, libraries aim to become more welcoming to citizens who may otherwise be wary of using them.
In the past seven years, districts in Massachusetts, California, and Illinois have scrapped some or all of their penalties. Colorado State Libraries recommends that all districts in the state do away with late fees, especially when they apply to children’s books. Libraries that are already struggling may be hesitant to let go of the revenue, but according to Janine Reid, executive director of the High Plains, Colorado library system, the circulation boost helps balance out the loss. She told 9NEWS that 95 percent of the materials that are checked out are still returned within a week of their due dates.
“We’re no longer having to finagle around or haggle around every 10 cent fine," Reid said. "Instead, the conversation is all about how much they enjoyed reading the materials."