By DAVID DUPONT
BG independent News
The Wood County District Public Library is going fine free.
The library board voted unanimously Monday to eliminate fines. Patrons will still be charged if materials are lost or damaged.
Library Director Michael Penrod recommended the change.
Fines were intended to be a punishment for not returning books, not a source of revenue. Fines bring in $21,000 annually, 0.8 percent of the library’s budget.
Libraries that have gone fine-free have seen no drop in return of materials.
What the fines do is discourage people from using the library. “I truly believe that fines serve as a barrier to service,” Penrod said.
In 2012 when the library reduced its maximum fine per book to $5, more materials were returned. Now the library offers automatic renewal up to four times for material that hasn’t been requested by another patron. Those factors have led to a steadily decreasing amount of revenue for fines.
Still for some people getting hit with fines can lead them to decide to forego using the library, library staff said. Children’s Librarian Maria Simon said with the 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten program, some families take out a couple dozen books, and often one gets left behind or they are a day late. This is also true of home-schooling families.
At Project Connect, the annual day helps connect low-income residents with services, library staff often hear from people who say they have stopped using the library because of fines accrued, Simon said.
This is especially the case with people who lack reliable transportation, said Assistant Director Michele Raine.
Penrod said regardless 90 percent of borrowed items are returned within two weeks of the due date.
The board voted to end the fines, but it’s up to Penrod and the library staff to determine how to implement the policy.
Penrod indicated he would be in favor of forgiving outstanding fines.
However, he also is considering cutting to 21 days from 45 days when an item is considered lost and the patron is billed for its replacement. If two weeks pass after that process is initiated and there’s no response, the bill is turned over to a collection agency.
As it stands, said board member Chet Marcin, a patron would have had the material for about six months.
Penrod said using the collection agency is effective. The library has had former BGSU students return materials after several years because the bill appears on their credit report when they want to buy their first home.
In other action, the board voted to keep the library open on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Presidents Day, and Veterans Day. The library started closing on those days when it was suffering from severe financial problems. Now that the budget is in much better shape, Penrod said, it was time to revisit those holidays since people would use the library then.
Instead of having those days off, staff would be able to take another day off within a two weeks of the holiday.
The library will continue to “float” Columbus Day. The library remains open on that day, closing instead on the day after Thanksgiving.
The library also closes on Easter.