WESTFIELD, NJ — Library patrons who fail to return materials and lapse in payment of late fees could theoretically find themselves stuck with an additional $200 municipal court fine, something that is anticipated to no longer be possible — starting Tuesday night.
The town council is set to repeal provisions in the municipal code providing penalties for failing to return overdue library material, failure to pay library fines, and damaging or destroying library materials. A public hearing on the measure is set for Tuesday night. The council had introduced it last month.
“This is rescinding the fact that having an overdue library book could be a municipal offense here in Westfield,” said Councilman Mark Parmelee, chairman of the code review and town property committee. “You could be brought to municipal court jail for an overdue library book.”
Fines that the library itself levies for overdue materials and those the municipal court can levy are separate from each other, Parmelee said.
And during the pandemic, the Westfield Memorial Library has stopped levying fines and fees for overdue materials.
Councilman Jim Boyes, who is the mayor’s alternate to the Westfield Library Board, said the library has chosen, instead of levying fines and fees, to hire a recovery services firm.
“The library board has opted to use the services of a material recovery firm that will be reaching out to individuals who have overdue books and items and essentially be using a much gentler approach to get them to return those items, as opposed to the imposition of fines and fees,” Boyes said.
Municipal officials discussed a national movement to do away with library fines and fees.
In 2019, the American Library Association urged libraries to scrutinize their use of fines and fees, amid what the Association said was “mounting evidence that indicates eliminating fines increases library card adoption and library usage.”
In its resolution, the library association said that fines create an economic barrier to accessing library materials and also “absorb valuable staff time applying, collecting and managing dues.”
Parmelee said that with the ALA’s guidance in mind, the municipality is also updating its code.
“In addition to the library fine, it made it a municipal offense and that just didn’t seem consistent with the goals of the library or the American Library Association,” he said.
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