AP NEWS

Library Considers Going Fine-free

July 30, 2018

Broomfield library officials are considering dropping fines that often are seen as a barrier for some patrons.

Libraries that do not charge fines on children’s materials

Loveland Public Library

Boulder Public Library*

Denver Public Library*

Jefferson County Library

Pikes Peak Library District

* libraries that are considering going completely fine free

Libraries that do not charge fines at all

Arapahoe Libraries

High Plains Library District (except on DVDs)

Anythink Public Library District

Pines and Plains Libraries

Eaton Public Library (except on DVDs)

2017 Snapshot

Total overdue fines charged on Broomfield materials including Flatirons Library Consortium users: $42,181.71

Total overdue fines charged on Broomfield materials to Broomfield users: $38,265.00

Total overdue fines charged on Children’s materials alone: $17,048.35

Current blocked users due to fines

Total: 6,146 (all ages)

Children: 494

Total Revenue from all fines, fees: $64,000

5 year trend is: $67,000 and declining

Data from the Mamie Doud Eisenhower Public Library

Broomfield’s library is taking steps to become fine-free because librarians believe the move will better serve the community and — bring families blocked because of not paying fines — back to into the stacks.

Director of Library Services and Cultural Affairs Abby Yellman said the initial conversation on eliminating fines started last year.

At an annual library conference, presenters discussed a study on the affects of library fines.

“The staff came back fired up,” Yellman said. “If we’re not serving all populations — and this is a barrier for low income, or any, families — then we need to change.”

She took three options to the Library Advisory Board: eliminate fines on children’s materials, eliminating all fines, or offering amnesty days where patrons can drop off overdue books with no repercussions.

In June, after months of discussion, the board voted 5-2 to recommend a fine-free future for library.

Broomfield City Council will have the final vote.

The ordinance is expected to come before Broomfield City Council Aug. 14 for the first reading.

Yellman said the panel discussion at the conference talked about this movement gaining in popularity as libraries began looking at traditional service models and examining if they work.

Fines exist for one of three things: to generate revenue, for the timely return of materials and to teach civic responsibility.

The New York public library director, who was on the panel, said the library collected between $500,000 to $700,000 a year, which is less than one percent of their budget, Yellman said.

Last year Broomfield collected $42,181 in overdue fines, which was 1.6 percent of the annual budget.

When it comes to returning materials, libraries that have gone fine free, including Arapaho and Anythink Libraries, are seeing an uptick in the return of materials, an increase in circulation, or both, Yellman said.

“People don’t feel as hesitant to return items,” she said. There’s no thought of “someone’s going to be upset.”

Teaching civic responsibility is a subjective discussion, Yellman said, and the conversation turns to whether the library should be teaching people to be responsible. When it comes to young children, they might not be able to return items without an adult and are still getting penalized.

“When you look at missions, fines just aren’t in-line with that,” Yellman said. “As librarians, that’s what we believe.”

She agreed with something D.C. library chief Richard Reyes-Gavilan said at the conference — he’d rather have a smaller budget that results in equitable use of the library and its services than have a larger budget that results in inequitable use.

Yellman’s children’s staff is passionate about getting this passed, she said. Employees have heard mothers tell their children the family can’t check out anything because they can’t afford to pay fines.

Broomfield data shows that fines impact more than just low income families, Yellico said, but that lower income families make the largest portion of the 6,000 blocked users, based on data as recent as February. Of those nearly 500 are children.

A residents becomes blocked when fines reach $10.

Last year the library took in $42,000 in fines, Yellman said, and $17,000 was for children’s materials. Fines were balanced among income levels.

Library officials considered amnesty days, or waiving fees during food drives a couple of times a year, but data has shown that simply puts a “Band-Aid” on the problem.

“I think in Broomfield we have better options,” Yellman said.

Beth Crist, Youth & Family Services Consultant with the Colorado State Library, said the organization was able to conduct their research after receiving a federal grant to find best practices to reach low income parents of children.

In the first year they conducted research in 2012, which included hosting survey and focus groups that asked families what were barriers to reading with their children every day and using the library.

“One of the barriers they mentioned is fines and fees,” Crist said, “and the stories were pretty heartbreaking.”

One mother said she doesn’t let her children check out items because she’s afraid the books will be lost or damaged or that they won’t return them in time to avoid fees. Another mother said her family does borrow books, but then she places them on high shelves so her children can’t touch, and potentially damage or lose, them. When the family reads, they children aren’t allowed to touch the books.

“It’s totally understandably, but that touch really helps with the love of reading and interest in books,” Crist said. “At that age kids are very tactile.”

The state library published their findings in 2015 and is working on updating it now, she said.

Data shows the money brought in through fines evens out when compared to the cost of collecting.

“Our research shows it actually costs quite a lot of money to collect all those nickels and quarters,” Crist said, not to mention staff time, credit card fees and, with some libraries, paying a collection agency.

One study they conducted at an academic library showed that, even with financial incentives to bring materials back on time, students did not.

“It really doesn’t make any difference in borrowing behavior,” she said.

If approved in Broomfield, a new fine-free policy would take effect in January 2019.

AP RADIO
Update hourly