DARKE COUNTY — Several local libraries are either considering doing away with fines within the next year, or have already done so.
Greenville Public Library director John Vehre said that overdue fines for seniors, juveniles, teachers, and current military would be eliminated beginning January 2, and that fines in general would most likely disappear at the beginning of 2019.
“We’ve been moving in that direction for a while,” Vehre said. “And those categories already had a long grace period. We’ll probably do this for a year, then abolish the fines altogether.”
Vehre said that libraries in nearby Preble County had already abolished fines within the last year or two, and that the Dayton-Montgomery County Public Library system appears poised to follow suit.
“The idea is that the fine was supposed to be an incentive to bring things back, but in fact it can be a hindrance,” Vehre said. “People feel guilty about bringing things back late, or they’re embarrassed about having a big fine, or the fine’s so big that they can’t pay it. When we look back at the idea of a library supposedly being a free resource, those fines maybe start to seem a little punitive.”
Vehre also stressed that fines might place an undue burden on some of the library’s more underprivileged patrons.
“The fact is that many of our users come from a lower economic strata, and even a fine capped at two dollars might be a little much for them to pay,” Vehre said.
Other library officials across the county expressed similar sentiments.
“I’d say we’re in limbo at this point,” New Madison Public Library director Brenda Miller said. “But the library board and I have been investigating how this is working at other libraries that have abolished fines.”
Miller also took care to distinguish between fines, which are for overdue items and may soon be abolished, and fees, which are assessed in order to replace lost, damaged, or stolen items. Fees, Miller said, will remain in force as always.
The New Madison Library has employed inventive strategies to help ease the burden of fines on its patrons for some time, according to Miller, including programs like Food for Fines – a promotion held each September where patrons can bring in a canned good and get a dollar off their existing fines – and a Black Friday special where those who stop in to take care of their fines on the day after Thanksgiving can do so at a reduced charge. They’ve even allowed teen and tween patrons to do a dance or recite a poem in order to get a dollar taken off their fines.
“A really cool thing that happens when we do Food for Fines is that people bring in food and say, ‘Take the money off someone else’s account who has a lot of fines,’” Miller said.
Miller said her motivation for considering doing away with fines was simple.
“At the end of the day, fines are a very small portion of a library’s revenue,” Miller said. “Apart from that, my personal motivation would be that you have children who are unable to check things out, either for entertainment or for a school project. And a five or six-year-old patron can’t control whether they’re able to get things in on time.”
Miller also showed concern for the library’s poorer patrons.
“My board is very cognizant of the fact that we want people to be able to check things out of our library,” Miller said.
Arcanum Public Library Director Curtis Schafer agreed.
“With other libraries in the area going fine-free, it’s definitely something we are going to look into,” Schafer said. “We’re always looking for ways to better serve our patrons and our community. I’ll be very interested to have discussions with other libraries and see how going fine-free has worked for them.”
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