Baldwin Library closes book on late fees

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published July 14, 2021

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BIRMINGHAM — If you’ve been avoiding a trip to the Baldwin Public Library because of an outstanding late fee tab, then dust off your borrowing card because the library has put the kibosh on charging overdue fees altogether.

The library’s board of trustees voted to eliminate the overdue fines policy during its June 21 meeting. Revenue from fines has traditionally counted for less than 1% of the library’s annual budget.

Yes, that includes any existing late fees patrons might’ve accrued over the years, according to Library Director Rebekah Craft, who said she hopes the policy change will encourage former users with prohibitive account balances to head back to the library.

“Once someone owes a late fine, they are less likely to visit the library again, and the fear of owing late fines can cause patrons to not borrow the items they need,” Craft said in a prepared statement. “We hope being fine free will encourage prior users to come back to the library, as well as encourage new users to explore our offerings.”

It’s for that reason most libraries around the country are implementing similar policies. Farmington Community Library eliminated the practice of charging overdue fees in August 2020, and the Ferndale Area District Library has also ended late fees. Other local libraries — including the Bloomfield Township Public Library, the Troy Public Library, the Royal Oak Public Library, the West Bloomfield Public Library and Clawson’s Blair Memorial Public Library still enforce a late fee schedule.

In 2019, the American Library Association passed a resolution to discourage monetary fines, calling economic penalties “a form of social inequity.”

The policy seems to be a win-win: A report from Bowling Green State University on the efficacy of library fines found that institutions that have eliminated fines and fees overwhelmingly see an increase in registration, circulation and timely returns. Chicago’s public library system eliminated fines several years ago, and within weeks of erasing the debts there was a 240% increase in material returns.

That said, the Baldwin Public Library announced the elimination of fees with a gentle reminder: No fines does not mean no responsibility. Items will still have due dates and materials will still need to be returned, though borrowed materials can be renewed three times if there are no holds on the item. If an item isn’t returned or is returned damaged, patrons can be charged for a replacement. Borrowing privileges will also be suspended until long-overdue items are returned.

But the Baldwin Public Library Circulation Services Coordinator Kristen Tait said she looks forward to sharing the good news with the library’s service area.

“When you visit Baldwin, we want to focus on helping you, not question you about late fees,” Tait said in a press release. “Going fine free makes a trip to the library a pleasant, positive experience for both you and our staff.”

For more information, visit the library’s website at baldwinlib.org.

The Baldwin Public Library is located at 300 W. Merrill St. in downtown Birmingham.

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