Madison Heights Public Library permanently ends library late fees

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published February 5, 2021


MADISON HEIGHTS — The Madison Heights Public Library has not been collecting late fees on overdue materials since the pandemic started last year. Now, the Madison Heights City Council has decided to make that change permanent, reasoning that late fees discourage people from utilizing the library and can disproportionately hurt those who depend on it most.

The council unanimously made the decision at its meeting Jan. 25.

“While library late fees will be eliminated, patrons will still be responsible for lost and damaged material,” Roslyn Yerman, the library director, said in an email.

Forgetting to return something on time is a common human mistake, but the costs of late fees can add up, and so can the awkward feeling of eventually returning.

“Late fees were created to motivate library patrons to return material on time, but they also prevent patrons from accessing library services when they can’t afford to pay a fine or are ashamed to return to the library because the material is overdue,” Yerman said. “The goal of the library is to be a welcoming environment providing access to information, not barriers to it.”

Madison Heights City Councilman Robert Corbett said this change has been in the works for a while now.

“Initially, residents and library volunteers had floated the idea with staff, some time back,” Corbett said in an email. “The library staff looked into the idea and reported to City Council favorable findings while researching best library practices around the country.

“Perhaps it seems a bit counter-intuitive, but evidence suggests the threat of overdue fines does not favorably influence quicker and more complete return of circulated books and materials,” Corbett said. “In fact, with families or individuals lacking reliable transportation, (late fees) seem to discourage them from fully utilizing the library resources. Since our goal is to encourage literacy and childhood learning, eliminating penalties for returning overdue materials seemed like a great idea.”

Madison Heights City Councilman Mark Bliss said that the new policy is a sensible decision.

“A late book shouldn’t be a deterrent to the library. Our collective taxes pay thousands of dollars to operate the library each year, and it’s ridiculous to think that a family that fell on hard times or a senior on a fixed income may stay away from the library that their taxes help to fund simply because they forgot to return a book a few months ago and can’t afford the late fee. It makes little sense given the investments they have already made in the library, and it doesn’t make any sense for the city since our goal is to get more people into the library, not less,” Bliss said in an email.

“I think we’ve all had a time where we’ve forgotten to return a book and had massive late fees. For many, it’s a simple thing to laugh about on their next trip, but for some residents the inability to afford an extra fee will prevent them from going back to the library. That’s unacceptable, and by waiving all fees through the pandemic, we’ve proved that for the small amount of money the city raises from this — which is pretty much negligible, when you factor in staff time to administer it — we can permanently remove these fees for our residents. Lost or damaged materials will still need to be paid for, but our residents will now be able to bring late books back without penalty — hopefully, bringing more people back to our library.”

For more information about the Madison Heights Public Library, call (248) 588-7763.