WATERFORD — Down 15,000 checkouts from last year, the Waterford Public Library is getting rid of late fees. Kind of.
On Monday, Library Director Heather Kinkade announced that the library is going “fine-free.” That means that even if you return a book (or magazine, CD, DVD, Blu-Ray or audiobook) after its due date, there won’t be a charge unless it’s really late. A bill will be incurred if the item is 35 days late or more. If the items still are not returned one month after that, they will be regarded as stolen.
Kinkade said that this change is in part a result of 2019 being a lower traffic year for circulation.
The library had 156,975 checkouts in 2019, 15,000 fewer than 2018.
With the library being located just off Main Street in Downtown Waterford, at 101 N. River St., road construction last year on Main and First streets made it more difficult for people to get to the library.
Kinkade hopes that eliminating late fees will help push back against the construction’s effect on checkouts.
“We still want people to use the library,” she said.
But the change is also part of an effort “to reduce barriers and increase access,” the library’s board stated when it changed the policy.
An increasing number of libraries nationwide are going fine-free.
The Racine Public Library has already gone fine free and the Burlington Public Library is fine-free for children’s and teen’s materials. Burlington’s normal late fee for other materials is 25 cents per day.
The Rochester Public Library and Graham Public Library in Union Grove both have fines of 25 cents per day.
The Chicago Public Library went fine-free last September and, within the first month, saw a 240% increase in the return of materials within three weeks of checkout, NPR reported.
Fine-free libraries aren’t only a promotional tactic. The American Library Association declared last year that fines can be “a form of social inequality” since a small fine could still prevent some people from using the library while people with steady incomes could pay it off easily.
NPR reported that almost half of the people who were blocked from checking books out of the San Diego Public Library because of late fees lived in just two of the city’s poorest neighborhoods.
Allison Murray contributed to this report.
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