Austin Public Library eliminates fines on materials for juveniles

Published 8:17 am Thursday, May 2, 2019

Part of effort to make library more accessible to children

The Austin Public Library eliminated fines on overdue juvenile materials effective May 1.

The move came as the library’s Summer Reading Program draws near. The policy was implemented with support from the Library Board, the City of Austin and the Southeastern Libraries Cooperating (SELCO) administration.

APL Director Julie Clinefelter said the decision was made as a means to make the library more accessible to children.

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“This is something that I’ve heard about at conferences and has been a big push with libraries across the nation,” Clinefelter said. “We felt it was important to eliminate barriers for people to use the library, especially children. Our theme this year has been inclusion and equity, and this is part of our effort to eliminate those barriers that keep kids from using the library.”

Under the new policy, all fines currently owed to the APL for late juvenile materials are forgiven. This does not apply to adult or young adult material, even if said material was checked out on a juvenile’s library card. It also does not apply to equipment such as telescopes, kits, Wi-Fi hotspots and Chromebooks.

Clinefelter said that any item that is more than 30 days overdue will be categorized as “lost,” and the patron will be charged for the items.

The decision was based on research that established that overdue fines are ineffective as a way to motivate people to return books on time or to encourage personal responsibility. They also create an unnecessary barrier for children, who frequently do not have consistent transportation or are otherwise not in control over their ability to return materials on time, and for families who cannot afford to pay them.

Late fees could also impact families and individuals who rely on the library for certain services.

“Not everyone has the benefit of in-home internet access or the discretionary income to purchase books and digital materials,” Clinefelter said. “For those people, the library can have an especially important role, and fines can create a significant barrier for them.”

Although Clinefelter indicated some SELCO libraries have adopted the fine-free policy, overdue fines on materials from other libraries borrowed through the inter-library loan process are determined by the lending library. Each library sets its own lending period for items and has its own fine policy and structure.

It is anticipated that the policy could result in a roughly $2,000 decrease in the APL’s annual revenue.

“Last year we budgeted for about $13,000 in revenue for late fees,” Clinefelter said. “It will not be an earth-shattering loss.”

Libraries that have instituted similar policies have found the loss of revenue is outweighed by the ability to redirect staff time previously used to manage, collect and discuss fines with patrons on a day-to-day basis, according to Clinefelter.

For more information on the APL’s new policy, call 507-433-2391.