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Our opinion: Library remains a solid resource

Last week’s announcement by the Austin Public Library that it was eliminating fines for overdue books was a welcome sign by the library of wanting to make the materials it offers as accessible as possible.

A national trend has followed research that shows that fines are not an effective deterrent to overdue materials at libraries. However, there have been studies that have shown that fines can be a roadblock to people living in poor conditions.

Simply put, fines often got in the way of checking out materials that were not otherwise available. As reported by National Public Radio in 2019, a San Diego study found that nearly half of those with suspended accounts because of late fees lived in two of the poorest sections of the city.

The story went on to say: “For decades, libraries have relied on fines to discourage patrons from returning books late. But a growing number of some of the country’s biggest public library systems are ditching overdue fees after finding that the penalties drive away the people who stand to benefit the most from free library resources.”

In last Wednesday’s release from the Austin Public Library, it stated that the library was following that same trend “as a means of removing barriers to accessing information and resources for all members of a community, but has particular impact on families and individuals that may not have other means of obtaining those services.”

Too often, many just don’t have the resources at home, including use of the internet, that are offered at libraries like the Austin Public Library.

Instead of fines, books and materials that are overdue are labeled as lost and patrons are charged for the item, as is the current practice for all items; however, should that item be returned, then the lost status is cleared.

It’s an extra step that continues to put the Austin Public Library in a position to continue being a resource for those living in Austin.

However, this practice should not be an excuse to simply not return items and will require a level of responsibility by those making use of the library.

The library is going the extra mile to make sure people still have access to all the items it offers, but let’s make sure we are willing partners in this effort.