Earlier this week we excitedly announced that starting July 1st there will no longer be overdue fines for children’s materials! We’ve had some questions about this change and wanted to give the answers here.
Q: Why are you eliminating fines on children's materials?
A: It's easy: we want children to read. We know that life with children is hectic and sometimes it's hard to get to the library on time; we also know that it's not unusual for a child to have many books checked out at once and so late fees add up quickly. We would hate for a family to stop using the library because they feel they cannot afford it.
Q: But how will you make sure that the books come back?
A: We will still have due dates on all library materials and we do still expect people to return items on time. If a book is one month overdue it will be marked lost and the patron will be charged for the full cost of the item. We will still charge for lost or damaged books. If the book is returned, we will waive the "lost" fee.
Q: Does this apply to everything for children?
A: Almost everything; we will continue to charge late fees for Discovery Kits as they are a high-demand specialty item. But books, DVDs, and books on CD from the children's collection will all be fee exempt.
Q: Why just children's materials? Why not go fine free for everything?
A: This could be such a long answer, but it boils down to this: our readers of children's materials and our readers of adult/teen materials just behave differently. Our collections move differently. Adults and teens are more likely to want specific titles--the next in a series, the next from their favorite author--and so we find that we have long holds lists for lots of items. We have found that late fees for those materials provide a great incentive to bring things back and help us keep high-demand materials moving.
However, many children do not consume books in this way. They might want 50 picture books about dinosaurs, but many times they don't care about which 50 picture books about dinosaurs they have. We have found that having these materials returned a few days late does not negatively impact another patron's ability to enjoy the library (we have enough books about dinosaurs to satisfy many future paleontologists).
Q. Won't this make hold lists for kid's chapter books super long?
A. This is a valid concern and a big part of why the policy change only applies to children's books right now. We've been watching data for several years now from libraries around that country that have instituted similar policies who have found that their patrons still return things in a timely manner. It just gives a little more grace when people forget or have complications come up. Most patrons still want to return their items on time or close to on time because they know other people are waiting. And many libraries have even found people are more likely to bring things back than before, because fear of fines they couldn't afford had previously kept them from ever returning with that book they'd had out too long. We're hopeful that will be the case here.
We're committed to this not being a system that unintentionally penalizes, in this way, the patrons who always would have returned their materials on time, though. We'll continue monitoring hold lists for popular items, the way we currently do for all library materials, and will buy extra copies as needed to keep the holds/copy ratio low.
Q: Okay, that makes sense. Do you have anything exciting to announce for adult and teen users?
A: Thanks for asking! We wanted to talk about this in a previous question above, but that answer was getting too long. We are excited to announce that we're also instituting automatic renewals for library materials. You have always been able to renew library materials, but we have turned on automatic renewals to save you a step. As long as no one has requested an item, it will automatically renew for you on the due date for an additional three weeks. Since each item may be renewed twice, this means that you could potentially have up to nine weeks to finish that 40-hour epic fantasy book on CD (as long as no one else has requested it). You can see how many times the item as been renewed by logging into your online library account from our website.
Q: What if you put a hold on a children’s book, how will that affect the book being returned?
A: If you put a hold on a children's book that is currently checked out to someone else, that book will not automatically renew to them, and they will be expected to return the book on its original due date. The only change here is that they won't be fined at that point, but they will still receive the usual repeated reminders to return it. Once that book has been overdue for a month, it will be considered lost and the patron will be charged for it. BUT if they return it after that, we'll waive that fine. We're hoping some long-lost books will make their way back home this way.
Like we mentioned in the last answer, we’ll be watching hold lists carefully and buying more copies as needed when the ratio of holds per copy gets too high.
Q: Is this going to affect the library's budget?
A: Short answer? Yes. It will be a significant budget shortfall. We've made some adjustments; we think it's worth it to keep kids reading.