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Why Lansing Public Library went fine-free, starting May 1
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LANSING, Ill. (May 1, 2018) – As of May 1, 2018, the Lansing Public Library will no longer charge fines for overdue materials. Library Director Debbie Albrecht shared the reasoning behind that decision, and dismantled some commonly held misunderstandings about libraries and fines:
- Libraries are about providing access to information. Fines create barriers to information. Albrecht cites an example of people who are looking for a job— “If they have overdue book fines, they are blocked from using the computers to job search. If your money is already limited, late fees just compound your problems.” Albrecht’s philosophy is that the library should be a resource to anyone who needs it.
- Fines actually prevent people from returning materials. Albrecht knows that once an overdue fine reaches a certain level, she is not likely to ever see that book again: “People don’t return it because they do not want to deal with overdue fines!” By wiping away late fees, she explains, the stigma is removed and the materials are returned and made accessible to other patrons. “Some traditionalists will argue that without fines there is no incentive to return a book on time,” says Albrecht. But she counters, “Yes there is—you appeal to people’s good side.”
- Fines are not an important source of library revenue. Lansing Public Library has seen decreased revenue from fines over the years, and Albrecht believes it will not be a hardship to replace that revenue. In fact, she already received notification that the library will be receiving $35,414 in per capita grant funds this year, which is about a $14,000 increase from the previous year. That plus an anticipated increase in revenue from printing and copying done by library patrons will more than make up for the revenue from fines.
Fine-free is angst-free
But to Albrecht, going fine-free is less about revenue and more about the culture she wants to create at the Lansing library. When staff have to spend time tracking fines and sending notices and having tense conversations with patrons, they aren’t doing the things that make the library feel like a resource.
Without fines, she says, “We will be able to say, ‘Yes’ more. Time can be spent making the library a more welcoming place. I cannot quantify that but it is huge. It is about providing better service to all our patrons.”
Albrecht believes that Lansing library patrons will appreciate the decision to be fine-free, and that they will respond in kind. “We expect to get a lot of good will from our users because we have stopped charging overdue fines. We want our patrons to know we believe they will do their best to return what they borrow—so others in their neighborhoods can have what they need too.
“We try very hard to spend our tax dollars wisely. We have not increased our levy the last two years, and we managed to update the library and equipment to give our patrons the best resources and spaces possible.”
Other fine-free libraries
Lansing Public Library is not the first in the area to do away with fines. Oak Park, Algonquin, and Addison Public Library have already eliminated fines, and others are exploring the idea.
In fact, the American Library Association promotes “the removal of all barriers to library and information services, particularly fees and overdue charges.”