Dear Library Patron,

The Bloomfield Public Library is excited to announce that as of January 1, 2020, we will no longer be charging fines for late materials. You may have questions about what led the Library Board of Trustees to make this important decision, so I am writing to give you some background information on this initiative.

We believe a Public Library exists to serve the community and is based on the concept of sharing resources and services.  Library fines, however, create distinct barriers; monetary fines present an economic barrier to those who cannot afford to pay them, and they create a barrier in public relations, both for staff who collect and manage the dues and for the patrons who may be reluctant to return materials or use the library at all.

Many libraries charge overdue fines because of three main assumptions:

  • Fines bring back materials faster (and at all)
  • Fines generate revenue for the library
  • Fines teach responsibility

Published research and a growing amount of recent evidence show that, actually, none of these assumptions are true - at all! Overdue fines do, though, have a significant impact on patrons:

  • Overdue fines disproportionately impact patrons with lower incomes, as transportation and financial burdens disproportionately affect low-income residents
  • Parents are reluctant to check books out for the children for fear of fines
  • Patrons with high overdue fines often have their library cards blocked

If you are concerned that this change will adversely affect the Library budget, let me assure you that the Library is always carefully watching its bottom line and that any loss of revenue is tiny when compared with the good this new policy will do. The total revenue collected from fines amounts to less than .5% of the overall Library budget, and with the rise of electronic borrowing (which is already fine free) and the implementation of auto-renew coming on February 14, 2020, the amount collected will drop even further. We feel that forgoing potential funds generated from fines is worth it in order to provide barrier-free access to Library use for all patrons.  

Other compelling reasons to get rid of fines:

It aligns with our Mission and our Strategic Plan

A core mission of libraries is to provide equitable service to all residents in their communities. Overdue fines go against that mission by disproportionately affecting residents in low-income households the most. These patrons may have transportation challenges that keep them from getting to the library regularly. They may work multiple jobs, be single parents, or have unstable housing, all leaving them with limited time to visit the library. Thus, these patrons are most likely to have library cards blocked due to high fines, and these patrons – the very residents that need access to library collections the most – are less likely to check out materials.

It addresses the incalculable value of completely barrier-free library access

All too often, we hear parents telling their children, “You can’t take anything out because I don’t want to worry about the fines.”  We must ask ourselves, “What is the dollar amount we would assign to a parent coming in knowing they won’t be fined if they cannot get their materials back and that their child has access without any risk?  What is the lesson a child is taught about libraries when a parent says they can’t go there because using a library is punitive?”

Another answer has to do with the core mission of libraries with regard to responsibility: “Responsibility is an important value for individuals and communities to practice, but not one that permits the library to overlook its essential function. If there is a conflict between teaching responsibility and ensuring equal access, the library is duty-bound to prioritize equal access.” Additionally, patrons will still be charged for materials that they don’t return, so there’s still accountability in place; going fine-free is definitely not giving away library materials or letting patrons keep them for months on end, but rather providing a much more equitable service model.

It allows us to continue to grow our circulation and membership

Bloomfield’s circulation is up across every metric, and our percentage of population owning a library card has grown from 41% in 2015 to 50% in 2018.  Research shows that most libraries that eliminate late fines not only see no change in the rate of return of materials, but that some even get back MORE after going fine free. Most libraries also see an uptick in users and circulation - people are more likely to return to using the library and to return their items when fines disappear from the relationship.

We are excited about these changes and look forward to continuing to provide you with outstanding services, collections and programs that meet the needs of everyone in our community. We look forward to seeing you in the Library and taking advantage of our resources!

 

Sincerely,

 

Holly Martin Belli, MLS

 

Director, Bloomfield Public Library