Libraries across the country have been eliminating their late fees in an attempt to encourage more patrons to visit, and more Treasure Valley libraries will join the trend this year.
The Meridian Library District, Eagle Public Library and Caldwell Public Library have already eliminated late fees for most of their materials, and the Nampa Public Library and Garden City Public Library plan to follow suit starting Oct. 1. The Boise Public Library and Ada Community Libraries are considering the same move.
In the Nampa Public Library’s fiscal year 2020 budget report, library director Claire Connley said the trend of libraries going fine-free has been growing nationwide and recently spread into Idaho. As other libraries have gotten rid of late fees, Connley said it would be “punitive” to collect late fees from Nampa patrons moving forward.
“It’s our new reality,” Connley said in the report.
Removing the fees won’t remove accountability, she said. If an item isn’t returned after a period of time, it will be classified as lost. The patron who checked out the item won’t be able to check out anything else until they return it or pay for it to be replaced.
The Nampa Public Library’s new policy is similar to what’s in place at some of the other libraries that have already slashed fees, including the Meridian Library District. Macey Snelson, district spokeswoman, said Meridian libraries tested out eliminating late fees for its youth materials in 2017 and put it into effect for all materials in 2018.
Snelson said some people who had a prior poor experience with the fines or were intimidated by the library’s policy were more comfortable participating again without the threat of late fees keeping them away.
“This was allowing them a way back in,” she said.
Before it eliminated late fees, the Meridian district charged 20 cents per day for a late book and $1 per day for late movies, Snelson said.
Nampa also charges 20 cents per day for a late item, up to a maximum of $10 per item. The biggest late fee balance owed by a single patron is $372, Connley said. By eliminating the late fees, she said that will forgive all outstanding fees for late materials, but it will not forgive fees for lost or damaged materials.
Connley said she also knows that some parents have not allowed their children to check books out because of the library’s late fees, and she hopes by eliminating the fees those families will feel more welcome at the library. She hopes the change will make things easier for the library staff when it comes to customer service.
Late fees generated over $40,000 in revenue for the library last fiscal year, Connley said, or roughly 2% of the overall budget.
While cutting late fees will also cut that revenue, Connley does not expect the loss to make a huge impact on operations. The library will not need to reduce its staff or cut down any of its regular features, Connley said. Plus, getting rid of late fees will save the library the roughly $8,000 a year it pays a collection agency to pursue those fines, she said.
The Nampa library runs on a budget of just over $2 million in the proposed FY20 budget.
“We’re used to doing things on a shoestring,” Connley said.
Late fees made up less than 1% of the Meridian Library District’s $5.6 million budget, Snelson said. Eliminating the fees resulted in a loss of about $4,600 in revenue, which she said was easily made up by the district increasing the grants and sponsorships that contribute to their budget.
Other libraries around the country are looking at different ways to make up the lost late-fee revenue. A library in Midland, Michigan, for example, is proposing to cut late fees and instead increase the cost of non-resident library cards from $75 to $125 per household, according to the Midland Daily News.
More than 50 library systems nationwide have dropped late fines for some or all patrons, according to a recent study by The Financial Justice Project and San Francisco Public Library. Late fines, according to the study, aren’t proven to be an effective way to enforce returns, and they disproportionately affect low-income patrons. The libraries involved in the study did not see a spike in late returns after getting rid of late fees, and most saw an uptick in circulation.
Considering that dropping late fees can reduce barriers for people accessing library services, Snelson said the Meridian Library District is supportive of other local libraries making the switch to eliminating their late fees.
“We’re fans of everyone going fine-free,” Snelson said.