June 2018

Berkeley Public Library to End Charging of Daily Late Fees for Teen and Adult Materials

June 07, 2018

Contact: Elliot Warren
Acting Director of Library Services
Berkeley Public Library

Berkeley Public Library to End Charging of Daily Late Fees for Teen and Adult Materials

Berkeley, CA June 7, 2018

Starting on July 1, 2018, Berkeley Public Library (BPL) will no longer charge daily fines for the late return of teen and adult books, DVDs, CDs and magazines. On June 6, the Board of Library Trustees (BOLT) unanimously approved the proposal from Acting Director of Library Services Elliot Warren to do so.  BOLT President Diane Davenport says, “We know that fines are a barrier to Library use for many, that the cost to collect fines is higher than the fines collected, and that the vast majority (88%) of materials are returned within one week of their due date. Libraries around the country are just beginning to look at this issue, and I'm proud of our Library staff and administration for studying the issue and urging us to take a leadership role in eliminating daily overdue fines.”

According to Acting Director Elliot Warren, the charging of daily overdue fines, originally intended to incentivize return of materials, instead acts as a barrier for Library use, especially for lower income community members. “Public libraries are the people’s university & we need to make sure they are accessible to everyone. The current practice unintentionally tells some people they are not welcome. The City of Berkeley and BPL are committed to serving the entire community.”

At its February 7 meeting, BOLT affirmed the Urban Libraries Council’s Statement on Race and Social Equity that commits public libraries to the elimination of racial and social equity barriers in library programs, services, policies and practices. “The majority of the 11,000 Berkeley residents currently blocked from using the Library due to such fines live in three zip codes: 94702, 94703, and 94710. These are the most diverse areas of Berkeley, and the least wealthy. Once we discovered this, we realized we needed to take action to ensure we are serving the entire city effectively.”

Warren described numerous instances in which patrons of lower income have told staff that they can no longer afford to use the Library. “People regularly say that they don’t check out books because they are afraid of being charged late fees they can’t afford. Access to reading for all is vital to a healthy and informed community. Libraries are not a secondary community service; they are primary. We are prioritizing universal access.”

For many decades, the Library has not charged such daily overdue fines for children’s materials; with this policy change, the Library is extending the policy to also apply to teen and adult materials. Although daily late fees will not be charged for overdue items, patrons with long overdue materials will be charged a replacement fee at the retail cost of each item. Patrons with three or more overdue items won’t be able check out additional items until they return their overdue ones. “We don’t want anyone to feel that they can’t afford to use the Library. Rather than punishing patrons who return books a couple of days late, we are incentivizing returning materials on time,” says BPL Circulation Manager Jay Dickinson. “We prefer this positive and welcoming approach.”

In addition to extending fine-free practices to teen and adult materials, the Library has simplified the late fees schedule for tools checked out from the Library’s Tool Lending Library. “Our Tool Lending Library serves as a service model for communities nationwide. We want the Tool Lending Library to be even easier for Berkeley residents to use. Next year, we plan to assess whether extending fine-free practices to the Tool Lending Library also makes sense,” says Library Services Manager Sarah Dentan.

“The amount of time we spend counting and accounting for nickels, dimes, and quarters will be better spent engaging positively with community members and helping them use Library resources and facilities. Not collecting daily late fees will have no impact upon our ability to provide the same level of service and should allow us to enhance services,” says Circulation Manager Dickinson. “And the main incentive to return books on time is so you can check out even more titles!”

For questions regarding this policy, please call 510-981-6195.

For more information on Library hours, services, and policies, please visit the Library’s website: www.berkeleypubliclibrary.org.