Annie Brooker, left, and Jessica Raivo, customer service specialists at the Sequim Library, check in books and movies recently returned or transferred to the branch. Effective Sept. 1, library staff stop late fines and fees for patrons to promote accessibility. Brooker said people shouldn’t be ashamed because staff often have late fees or fines because they see all the materials coming in and something new always catches their interest. Sequim Gazette photo by Matthew Nash

Annie Brooker, left, and Jessica Raivo, customer service specialists at the Sequim Library, check in books and movies recently returned or transferred to the branch. Effective Sept. 1, library staff stop late fines and fees for patrons to promote accessibility. Brooker said people shouldn’t be ashamed because staff often have late fees or fines because they see all the materials coming in and something new always catches their interest. Sequim Gazette photo by Matthew Nash

Sequim Library, NOLS branches drop overdue materials fines

Fine-free libraries increase circulation, access, director says

Fines for overdue materials go into the archives effective Sept. 1 at the Sequim Library and its sister branches through the North Olympic Library System.

NOLS’s Board of Trustees unanimously voted on Aug. 22 to eliminate overdue past and future late fines at libraries in Sequim, Port Angeles, Forks and Clallam Bay.

“Many, many libraries are going in that direction now,” library Director Margaret Jakubcin said.

With the vote, a 20 cents per day overdue fine and a $5 processing fee for lost or damaged items no longer applies. All existing overdue fines and processing fees will be waived in the coming month, too.

Jakubcin said the primary reason for eliminating fines is that they “create barriers” to service.

“It’s very important for the more at-risk portions of the community that they not be blocked from being able to use those resources because they accrued a fine that’s eight years old,” she said.

The American Library Association passed a resolution in January that described monitory fines as a “form of social inequity.”

The ALA encouraged libraries to scrutinize their practices of imposing fines and urged them to “take determined and pragmatic action to dismantle practices of collecting monetary fines.”

Library staff report that fees for lost and damaged materials still apply but patrons will be sent reminder notices more frequently to encourage them to return items.

Patrons with materials 14 days or more past due will be blocked from checking out more materials.

Library staff said an item is considered lost at 21 days overdue but a lost material fee is waived if the item is returned.

Jakubcin said the elimination of fines has been shown to expedite the return of overdue materials, increase new accounts and improve overall circulation, and allow more children and low-income users to maintain accounts.

“People who can afford to pay fines often choose to retain materials beyond their due date, and pay the fine,” Jakubcin wrote in a press release.

“People who can’t afford, or are embarrassed, to pay fines, often choose to hang on to the library item forever, and simply never return it to the library.”

Revenue

Jakubcin said overdue fines became a “small portion” of the library system’s revenue and require significant staff time. NOLS collected $39,684 in revenue from overdue fines in 2010 but nearly half of that at $20,503 last year, staff reports.

So far this year, NOLS collected just over $21,660 in fines and fees.

The library system’s total budget in 2019 was $4.56 million, with 93 percent of its revenue coming from property taxes.

Last year, fines and fees accounted for 0.48 percent for the library system’s $4.8 budget.

“Libraries across the country are going fine-free, recognizing that overdue fines create barriers to access, have negative impacts on public relations, consume valuable staff time and are not an effective tool to encourage on-time return of library materials,” Jakubcin said in a memo to the library board.

Libraries in Jefferson, Clark, Snohomish, Island, Kitsap, Franklin, Benton, Adams, Spokane, Whatcom and King counties are among those that have gone or are in the process of going fine-free, Jakubcin said.

Clean slate

Nearly 30,000 accounts will see their fines and fees eliminated some time in September.

The waiving of all existing overdue fines and processing fees will require assistance from the library system’s accounts vendor Innovative for a cost of $1,000.

Jakubcin said that it may take some time to see patron’s accounts zeroed out.

The approximate 29,800 accounts with fines and fees totals nearly $457,000 as of Aug. 1.

However, Jakubcin said, that potential revenue is “entirely hypothetical, as it will quite likely never be collected” with the library system bringing in about $20,000 from overdue fines and fees on average annually.

Library staff reported that about 80 percent of the delinquent accounts with fines have not been active for at least one year, and nearly 30 percent of the accounts expired more than seven years ago.

Jakubcin said in the trustees’ memo that eliminating the accounts seven years or more will result in about $200,000 being written off as bad debt, a process approved by the State Auditor.

The fees on have been billed to patrons, remain unpaid and are deemed uncollectable, she said.

Continued support

Library staff began discussions and research about a fine-free system in October 2018 leading to the Aug. 22 decision. Staff said they will track and evaluate data over the next year and report their findings in September 2020.

Jakubcin said that many patrons considered fines a donation to the library and they encourage patrons support the library in other ways by visiting www.nols.org/support-the-library.

For additional information about the fine-free decision, visit www.nols.org/nols-is-fine-free/, or contact Jakubcin at director@nols.org, or contact the Sequim Library, 630 N. Sequim Ave., at (360) 683-1161.

Reporter Rob Ollikainen with the Peninsula Daily News can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at rollikainen@peninsuladailynews.com.

Reach Matthew Nash at mnash@sequimgazette.com.

Library to nix overdue fines

The North Olympic Library System’s four library branches stop collecting fines for overdue materials Sept. 1.

• NOLS increased overdue charges from 10 cents per day to 20 cents per day in 2010.

• NOLS’ four branches collect about $20,000 per year in fines and fees, about 0.5 to 1 percent of its annual budget

• Library staff said other fine-free libraries in Western Washington see overdue materials returned earlier, lapsed users return, and new cardholders and circulation increases

• Currently, NOLS has about $457,000 in unpaid fees and fines from about 29,800 patrons. About 80 percent haven’t been active for one year and 30 percent of that number haven’t been active in at least seven years

Throughout September, library patrons from Sequim to Forks will see their fines and fees for overdue materials zeroed out. As of Aug. 1, there were 29,800 patrons with nearly $457,000 in fines and fees. Of those patrons, 80 percent haven’t been active in more than a year. Sequim Gazette photo by Matthew Nash

Throughout September, library patrons from Sequim to Forks will see their fines and fees for overdue materials zeroed out. As of Aug. 1, there were 29,800 patrons with nearly $457,000 in fines and fees. Of those patrons, 80 percent haven’t been active in more than a year. Sequim Gazette photo by Matthew Nash

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