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Longmont to Examine Effects Nixing Library Fines Has in Nearby Cities

September 19, 2018

Volunteer Zac Botkin restocks books at the Longmont Public Library on Tuesday.

City officials in the coming months will gauge results of plans to eliminate late fines at other libraries in the region to see if sparing slow readers their dimes is possible at the Longmont Public Library.

Although no official talks are in the works to stop charging Longmont library patrons for late items, city leaders starting in 2019 will examine the response to Broomfield’s recent cancellation of library overdue fines .

The Loveland and Boulder municipal libraries also have budget proposals to stop charging late fines up for possible approval this fall by their respective city councils.

Those two libraries, along with the Longmont, Broomfield, Lafayette and Louisville libraries, form the Flatirons Library Consortium.

“Right now we are observing what is happening currently in libraries in general, within our consortium and here in Longmont, and keeping good local statistics,” Longmont Library Director Nancy Kerr said. “This is a topic we will be begin to discuss in the near future. ... We do not have this in this year’s budget calculations, so we definitely have time to look at what our neighbors are doing.”

Longmont in 2016 collected $88,870 in overdue fines, followed by $97,994 in 2017 and $57,884 collected this year as of July 31. Fines collected by the library — in 10 cent increments per each late day for most items and 50 cents per day for DVDs — do not go directly back to the library, but rather the city’s general fund.

But those figures do not represent a full net gain for the city, as staff time goes into collecting fines.

The idea behind eliminating fines is to stop library patrons facing late payments from becoming less likely to use the library.

“Library users in general are pretty conscientious people. The guilt gets to them. If they owe us a dollar, that might prevent them from coming into the library,” Boulder Deputy Library Director Jennifer Phares told Boulder City Council earlier this month.

Loveland Library Director Diane Lapierre and Phares also said they believe overdue fines disproportionately impact low-income residents, and have viewed research that shows late fines fail to motivate patrons to return their books on time.

“It’s not just about the money the library receives. It is also the embarrassment factor of owing late fees that keeps some people away,” Longmont Library Director Kerr said.

When libraries eliminate overdue fines, patrons still aren’t free to keep books however long they like. Instead, they would be sent notifications when they have kept items past their due dates, and if the item remains outside the library, eventually the material is considered lost and the patron will be charged the price of the item, and sometimes a processing fee, Kerr said.

Currently, Longmont Public Library patrons are charged for the full cost of items 60 days past their return dates.

Linda Uhrich, owner of Used Book Emporium across Kimbark Street from the library, suspects she might rarely lose a customer looking for an alternate copy of a partly read book if the library eliminates late fees , since keeping a book an extra week would no longer cost anything.

“Occasionally, we’ll have someone coming in looking for a book who says, ‘I got it at the library, and it’s due back and there are 18 more people on the waitlist,’” Uhrich said. “It possibly could impact us in some ways, but I wouldn’t think it would be huge.”

Overdue-fine-free libraries are becoming more popular not only across Northern Colorado, but the rest of the state and nation, too. Denver Mayor Michael Hancock this year has asked his city council to eliminate library overdue charges for the Denver Public Library.

“It’s not anything specific to our library. It’s based on the research and is something that is happening across the country,” Lapierre said.

Sam Lounsberry: 303-473-1322, slounsberry@prairiemountainmedia.com and twitter.com/samlounz .

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