Government

3 libraries in Linn County now agree: no more late fees

Come July, Cedar Rapids, Marion and Hiawatha will scrap fines

Heather Meyer-Boothby, a materials librarian, sorts incoming books Dec. 4 at the downtown Cedar Rapids Public Library. C
Heather Meyer-Boothby, a materials librarian, sorts incoming books Dec. 4 at the downtown Cedar Rapids Public Library. Come July, libraries in Cedar Rapids, Marion and Hiawatha have agreed to end late fees for past-due materials. Marion’s library board, which was the last scheduled to vote on the issue, decided Monday evening to join its colleagues in stopping the fines. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

MARION — The Metro Library Network, which includes the public libraries in Cedar Rapids, Marion and Hiawatha, now have all agreed to go fine-free starting in July.

The Marion Library board of trustees approved the plan Monday evening. Cedar Rapids library trustees signed off Thursday, and Hiawatha’s board did so early this month.

“In alignment with the other (Metro Network) libraries, the board reviewed the fine policy along with our circulation statistics and found this policy to be ineffective,” Hollie Trenary, Marion Public Library director, said in an email. “Additionally, the board recognizes that many people in our community experience multiple barriers in their day-to-day lives and believe that library access should not be one of them.”

Charging fines for overdue materials may have a long tradition, but simply doesn’t work, library directors have said. The fines aren’t effective in encouraging the return of overdue material — and instead steer people away from libraries, the directors said.

The new policy is slated to take effect July 1, 2020, which is the beginning of fiscal 2021.

Trenary said outstanding fines would be waived when the new policy takes effect. It is not clear how much debt would be cleared.

Approximately 16,500 library users — out of about 100,000 in the Metro Network — have blocked cards because of overdue material.

A report about the plan stated the population of people with blocked cards is “heavily clustered in low-income census tracts.”

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“The mission of our libraries is to provide equal and universal access to information for all of our citizens,” Cedar Rapids Library Director Dara Schmidt said by email Monday. “By removing fines at our libraries we are making it easy and equitable for all of our citizens to access our library resources.”

Due dates would still be assigned.

In addition to email notices for overdue materials, a person’s account would be blocked after 30 days and he or she would receive a bill for the unreturned item. However, there would be a six-month grace period during which the material could be returned without penalty. After six months, the debt would be turned over to a collection agency.

Libraries must plan how to cover lost revenue from fines, which in Cedar Rapids was $78,358 in fiscal 2019. A portion of that amount would be made up in savings through elimination of efforts in chasing late material, according to a Cedar Rapids library report. The hope is eliminating fines boosts patronage, which in turn could increase public subsidies.

Around the country, the fine-free model is gaining popularity.

Chicago Public Library — the largest library system in the country — eliminated its late fees effective Oct. 1, according to American Libraries Magazine, a publication of the American Library Association.

Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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