The ups and downs of library fees

"I'll bring it back on time ... I'll bring it back late.... Oh, what are you going to do? Charge me a nickel?” –Jerry Seinfeld, Seinfeld Episode 22, Oct. 16, 1991

In some cases, they won’t even charge you a nickel.

The Rangeview Library District in Colorado has made the news recently for being the first district to ditch the Dewey Decimal System for a new system that organizes materials by categories instead of numbers—much like you see in the bookstores. While this news is interesting to bookworms, readers who are also money-minded might be interested in knowing about another very interesting change recently made by the Rangeview Library District: They are fine-free.

According to the District’s press release, the library decided to stop charging fines earlier this year “to enhance positive experience customers feel when they come to the library.” To me, it is a suprising move considering that many libraries are raising their fines and fees to make up for a decrease in funding. Some are even going as far as hiring third party agencies to collect—possibly impacting the credit scores of delinquent readers.

While hiring a collection agency might seem extreme, some library systems rely on the income from fees to operate, making fee elimination financially unrealistic. For example, the Chicago Public Library expects $3.2 million this year in fine revenue.  Yet smaller systems might find that the time and effort it takes to collect fees neutralizes any financial benefit.

As someone who regularly pays library late fees, I have mixed feelings about the issue. While I always feel a little bit sheepish about it, I am happy to pay my fees because I know that the library offers a great deal. However, I think that the elimination of fees seems easier and might encourage lower income families to use the library more regularly. What do you think? Does it make any difference to you if a library is fine-free?

I should mention that the Rangeview Library District does charge a replacement fee for items still not returned 25 days past the due date (but even I should be able to make that deadline!)


Kim McGrigg is the former Manager of Community and Media Relations for MMI.