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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Liberty Lake Library eliminates fines on late returns

Liberty Lake Library Director Jocelyn Redel, pictured at the library, says the branch has eliminated fines as of April 1, 2019. (Nina Culver / The Spokesman-Review)

The Liberty Lake Library is breaking with tradition and trying something new this year by doing away with fines for late books and other items.

Library director Jocelyn Redel said it’s something that libraries are increasingly considering. “I’m not breaking new ground,” she said. “There’s this movement in libraries. We feel like it better serves the community to not charge these fines.”

Library fines disproportionately impact low-income users, Redel said. She said she wants to remove barriers to people borrowing books and using the library.

It takes a lot of staff time to manage and process fines, time that Redel said she wants her staff to use helping patrons. Library staff members provide a wide variety of services, including proctoring exams, offering STEM classes and hosting a variety of community events.

Studies have also shown that charging small fines of a nickel or dime a day per item doesn’t affect whether people return them on time or not, she said. Libraries that don’t charge fines have the same overdue rates that libraries that charge fines do.

“It’s just not an effective way of managing borrowing,” she said. “If it isn’t working, why keep doing it?”

Last year the Liberty Lake Library brought in about $5,000 in fines on overdue items, Redel said. That adds up to only 1% of the library’s budget and is a manageable loss, she said.

“We decided that was something we could manage,” she said. “It’s such a small part of the budget. The benefits outweighed the costs for us.”

The library staff has been going into accounts and removing existing fines over the past several weeks, and Redel said that task is nearly complete. The community has been very happy with the change.

“It’s been overwhelmingly positive,” she said. “People have been very appreciative.”

The new policy began on April 1, but Redel said the library waited a few days to announce it. “We didn’t publicize it because we didn’t want people to get confused because of April Fools Day,” she said.

But just because there are no longer fines for overdue items doesn’t mean people can keep them indefinitely. There are a couple of exceptions to the new policy in the fine print. The library will still charge for items that are lost or damaged. An item is considered lost if it is not returned within 30 days of the due date.

The library will continue to send overdue item reminders to people via mail, email and text, if they sign up for that service, so they don’t forget to return borrowed items, Redel said.

“People can renew them,” she said. “They can check their accounts online.”

There will also still be daily overdue fines on books that have been borrowed through interlibrary loan. Those items will be clearly labeled as such so people aren’t surprised with late fines, Redel said.

“It’s because we get charged by the other libraries,” she said.

The removal of overdue fines is one of the bigger changes Redel has made at the library since she replaced library director Pamela Mogen in November. She was previously a branch manager at Sno-Isle Libraries, which serves Snohomish and Island counties, before arriving in Liberty Lake.