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Are library late fines a form of social inequity? Sault looks at dropping them

Have your borrowing privileges been blocked because of unpaid late fees?
Note found on a library checkout card for a recently returned book borrowed decades ago in Sudbury (supplied)

Sault Ste. Marie Public Library is looking at making overdue fines voluntary.

The idea was presented at a meeting of the library board's Dec. 16 meeting by member Jami van Haaften.

It's now being discussed by the board's policy committee.

"It is a trend in libraries," says van Haaften. "A lot of libraries are removing fines. It makes the library more accessible."

"I would like to remove all fines. Children's fines in particular," she tells SooToday.

Van Haaften argues that making overdue fines voluntary would:

  • better serve underprivileged populations
  • remove barriers to access
  • reinstate lapsed borrowers
  • attract new borrowers, especially children
  • improve access to library collections, programs and services
  • improve literacy
  • generate goodwill

"Monetary fines ultimately do not serve the core mission of the modern library," said the American Library Association in a resolution passed last year.

"There is mounting evidence that indicates eliminating fines increases library card adoption and library usage," the association said. "Monetary fines create a barrier in public relations, and absorb valuable staff time applying, collecting, and managing dues."

The American Library Association is urging libraries to scrutinize fines charged to library patrons and to actively move toward eliminating them.

It is also calling on governing bodies of libraries to strengthen funding support so they're not dependent on late fines as a revenue source.

Sault Ste. Marie Public Library collects $18,000 in fines and fees for meeting room rentals and other services.

Van Haaften wants to know how much of that $18,000 is from overdue library materials and how many borrowers have been blocked because of unpaid fines.

Currently, Sault Ste. Marie Public Library doesn't collect money from seniors on overdue books.

In other news, the library board learned at its January meeting that all collections have been removed from the recently closed Korah Branch library and shelving was being pulled out on Monday.

The library is required to be completely out of the Korah Branch before February.

Helena Huopalainen, Sault Ste. Marie Public Library's manager of community engagement, is retiring. Her final day on the job will be Feb. 28.

The library is advertising for a business administrator to replace Iva Smith, the executive assistant/office manager who retired last year.

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David Helwig

About the Author: David Helwig

David Helwig's journalism career spans seven decades beginning in the 1960s. His work has been recognized with national and international awards.
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