Effective April 1, the West Bloomfield Township Public Library no longer charges overdue fines. Pictured at right is Vivyan Abdulahad, who is a circulation clerk at the library.

Effective April 1, the West Bloomfield Township Public Library no longer charges overdue fines. Pictured at right is Vivyan Abdulahad, who is a circulation clerk at the library.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

West Bloomfield library eliminates overdue fines

By: Mark Vest | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published April 12, 2024


WEST BLOOMFIELD — Library patrons who might tend to get a little stressed when a due date is near can now breathe a sigh of relief.

As of April 1, the West Bloomfield Township Public Library no longer charges overdue fines.

West Bloomfield is not alone in making that decision. According to the library’s website, around 58% of Michigan library systems no longer charge overdue fines on print materials, with that information based on 2023 state reports.

According to West Bloomfield’s site, less than 0.5% of the library’s revenue last year was from fines, with the library estimating that it spends more than it receives to collect fines due to IT costs, including credit card processing fees and payment terminals.

The site also states that fine collection consumes “considerable” staff time that could be better spent on other public services.

“Fines are no longer a sustainable source of library revenue,” the site states.

The Bloomfield Township Public Library also eliminated overdue fines, which, according to a report, has only accounted for 0.02% of its revenue in recent years.

Although some may be concerned that the new policy lets people off the hook a little too easily, removing an element of personal responsibility, West Bloomfield Library Director Cathy Russ made it clear that the new policy doesn’t mean that patrons can now keep an item for as long as they want.

“Now we’re charging you for replacement cost,” Russ said. “So that, I think, is still a deterrent for people to keep their items longer than they should, but we’re not (going to) nickel and dime people if they’re a day or two late.”

The library previously charged people 15 cents each day for most overdue items.

However, according to Russ, in most cases patrons were not fined for overdue materials because of the library’s automatic renewal program, which means that if there is not a hold on material, the library automatically renews it.

“So if nobody had a hold on that material, we would automatically renew it for you so you wouldn’t have a fine,” Russ said. “So in most cases, you weren’t being charged fines anyway, and your item would just automatically renew for another three weeks. In the cases where somebody maybe did have a hold on the item and … you brought it back two days later, we would charge you 30 cents. Now we’re not doing that.”

The library’s automatic renewal program is continuing, with the current policy being that if an item is more than 21 days overdue, it is considered lost, with a replacement fee being assessed unless the item is returned.

Patrons are not able to borrow additional library materials if they owe over $30 in unpaid lost, unreturned and/or damaged materials fees, according to the site.

According to Victoria Edwards, who is the library’s communications specialist, patrons will continue to receive reminders about due dates.

The fact that West Bloomfield is not alone in its decision to no longer charge overdue fines has not been lost on Edwards, as she referred to it as a trend among libraries.

“During the pandemic, many libraries – including West Bloomfield – offered an amnesty program as a way to encourage patrons to bring library materials back during our phased reopening,” Edwards stated via email. “We noticed – as did many other library systems – a big increase in the return of library materials. Not just from patrons who checked out materials right before the pandemic, but from people who had held onto library materials for many months or even years. … With so many libraries seeing firsthand the impact of waiving overdue fines, it’s no surprise that about half the public libraries in Michigan no longer charge these fines.”

West Bloomfield resident Alaa Kuziez is someone who can appreciate the new policy.

She has two children and said that, “it’s so beautiful to see that relation between the child and the books that they read.”

According to Kuziez, her 6-year-old son gets attached to books.

“I want him to kind of build that relationship with that specific book that he loves, and sometimes it becomes overdue … so for me that’s like a huge stress point,” Kuziez said. “Having the fines removed allows for my son to kind of read that book over and over and over, and build that relationship with that book. That’s how they build their knowledge – it’s over time.”

Kuziez added that, “going fine-free helps me build those activities with my kids, share those books even beyond our home, bringing them to my kids’ classroom for reading sessions and activities and all that, so I appreciate the library going fine-free.”

Edwards shared a “huge advantage” of the library’s new policy.

“Overdue fines may have been a deterrent for families for years,” she stated. “A small daily overdue fine isn’t usually going to stop someone from keeping a few items beyond their due date – we’ve even heard from some patrons that do so intentionally as a way to donate to the library. But when your family is checking out 30, 40 picture books all at once, those daily overdue fines really start to rack up. So we expect to see more families and youth, especially, checking out more library materials without that fear hanging over them.”

According to Russ, for years there has been a stereotype about the “library police,” and an adversarial relationship with community members is not something that she wants.

“We want the library to be known as a place where everybody’s welcome,” Russ said. “So we looked at that, too, and thought if the fines are a barrier to access for people in our community, we need to address that. And then we … talked to the libraries that had gone fine-free to see what their experience has been, and they were universally positive.”

Although it is still too early for West Bloomfield to evaluate the change that has been implemented, there is reason to be optimistic that what has been put forth as a potential drawback may not actually be cause for worry.

Russ cited the Canton library as an example.

“They just put out their report about how it’s going, and they noted that at any time in the past, 4% of their collection was checked out and overdue, and now only 2% of their collection is checked out and overdue,” Russ said. “So it’s actually resulted in fewer materials being overdue, and I think that’s great, because that means more people are returning materials on time. And they also reported that they have seen their circulation – the number of materials that go out – increase, which means more people are using the library, and that’s what you want.”

From the perspective of both Russ and Edwards, one thing that the West Bloomfield library has going for it is a supportive community.

“I’m continuously impressed by the support this community has for its library,” Edwards stated. “We have a very well-educated, informed community, and that comes through each time we announce news like this.”

Staff Writer Mary Beth Almond contributed to this report.