With its new fiscal year, the Provo City Library is closing the book on a long-held library practice: charging fines on late books and materials for children. Effective July 1, the Library will stop charging fees on children’s materials that are returned past their due date.
Gene Nelson, Library Director, has been thinking about this move for quite some time. “Every librarian who has worked in a Children’s Department has heard some variation of this conversation between a parent and child: ‘I’m sorry, we just can’t check out books today; we can’t afford the late fees.’ It breaks your heart to hear that a child’s access to library books is a financial decision. That’s not what we’re about.”
According to Joella Peterson Bagshaw, Children’s Services Manager, the motivation behind lifting fines on late materials is simple: get books in the hands of Provo’s children. “In going fine-free for children's materials we are making materials more accessible for our youngest library patrons. We are helping families who have tight budgets and limited free time know that they are valued. We want children to have every opportunity to learn, grow, and succeed.”
“As a father of six kids, I know that sometimes things go missing,” Nelson notes. “They disappear under a couch, under a bed, in a toy box. We don’t ever want a late fee to be the reason that a child can’t check out books.”
But without due dates, how does the Library make sure that people return materials? “Going fine-free doesn’t mean it’s a complete free-for-all,” notes Erika Hill, Community Relations Coordinator. “People are still responsible for returning books, and if a book is out for too long we will assume it’s lost.” Patrons will still be charged for lost or damaged materials (though if a lost item is returned then those fees will be waived).
It is important to note that this change only applies to materials in the children’s collection; adult and teen materials, along with specialty items like telescopes, board games, cameras, and more will still have fines if they are returned late. To help patrons avoid late fees on those materials, the Library has also introduced an automatic renewal policy. As long no other patrons have requested an item, it will be automatically renewed up to two times to avoid late fees.
Though there will be a financial impact for the Library, Director Gene Nelson notes that the benefits to the community outweigh the revenue loss. “Across the nation, we’ve seen that when fines go down, circulation goes up. When we eliminate fines on the children’s collection, we gain more than we lose.”