Forgot to return that book that was due last week? No worries!
As of Oct. 1, Southwest Public Libraries is officially fine-free.
Joining a growing number of libraries in central Ohio, SPL will no longer charge daily overdue fines on most items. Some might ask why. Simply put, we want to be everyone's center for lifelong learning, and fines often stand in the way of that. Since launching our fine-free policy, we have received a highly positive response. We are grateful to everyone for their support.
Libraries have traditionally viewed overdue fines as encouragement to return materials on time. Recent research, however, suggests there is a lack of data to support that fines increase return rates.
Research indicates fines may actually discourage patrons from using or returning to the library. Patrons often stay away due to embarrassment, displeasure, or an inability to pay. Fines can be punitive to the most active and loyal patrons, and they can disproportionately affect low-income households. Libraries that have gone fine-free report lapsed patrons returning to the library as well as increased circulation numbers.
With this research in mind and after months of careful consideration, the library's board of trustees voted to go fine-free so the library can break barriers to access and encourage people to use the library.
Being fine-free means that patrons are still encouraged to return materials on time but are no longer charged daily overdue fines on most items.
Items borrowed through certain interlibrary loan systems will still accrue overdue fines.
Patrons remain responsible for replacement charges for lost and damaged items.
As in the past, patrons will receive multiple overdue notifications before their account is blocked or replacement costs are charged; these blocks and replacement charges will be removed once items are returned in good condition. The library will continue to use a materials-recovery agency to recover debts from lost and damaged items.
We understand patrons may have questions and concerns such as possible fine-free effects on waitlist times and library revenue.
Thankfully, most libraries that are fine-free report that a majority of patrons still return their items on time, and wait lists aren't impacted. Library staff will monitor effects on wait lists and adjust accordingly.
As for fine revenue, that amount had already dropped significantly over the past few years, particularly after reducing fine costs and introducing auto-renewal.
When SPL went fine-free, fines accounted for less than 0.5 percent of library revenue. Being able to increase the library's accessibility outweighs this small loss.
To find more FAQs and answers, please stop in or visit swpl.org.
Mark Shaw is the director of Southwest Public Libraries.