Town council approved the manager’s recommended budget and a part of that budget recommendation was to eliminate charging late fines on overdue library materials. There’s a couple reasons why overdue fines are a bad policy in this day and age. Essentially, there’s a real social-equity issue here, and overdue fines create a significant barrier to access, particularly for people who are economically disadvantaged. When we have an overdue fine and someone is unable to pay it they stop being able to use the library.
This resonated with the council. Overdue fines that we’ve collected over the years are not a significant portion of our overall budget, and they’ve actually been going down over the last several years. As of July 1 when our new fiscal year begins, we will no longer be charging overdue fines for late materials—although people will still be responsible for bringing their materials back.
How unique is this initiative?
It’s something that’s been on public library listservs and chats for about four years now and the number of libraries across the country that have adopted this model is huge. It is truly nationwide. There’s a website, the Urban Libraries Council, where you can see the map across the country of how many libraries have taken this position, and it’s for those reasons of equity and barriers to access.
Tell me more about curbside pick-up. I heard that books are “quarantined” after they’re dropped off.
So, this is tricky, isn’t it? We’re trying to protect everybody and safety is our first priority. We’re also trying to provide a core service that really resonates with a lot of people in the community. When people return library materials we disinfect them and then we quarantine them. We’re doing that while we’re wearing PPE, so we’ve all got gloves and masks on. And we set them aside for 24 hours before they can recirculate. Many people, of course, are choosing to be even more careful, and when they get their materials home they’re perhaps quarantining them on their side and wiping them off again.
We have tables and tents set up outside. Basically people drive up to the car circle and when they get parked at a tent, they give us a call. We have a whole assembly-line technique set up inside the library. It takes about eight people to run it. One person answers the phone and another person jogs off and pulls the stuff that the person in the car is waiting for. A third person checks out those materials in the catalog and then the fourth person runs out to the tents. We place the items on the table, and we step away, and once we do that the person gets out of the car and picks up. It’s pretty labor-intensive.
It seems like there’s a lot of care and caution put into the process.
We keep tweaking the process. You know, we started this a couple weeks ago and it’s changed regularly. So it may change up again.
What has the response to curbside pickup been like?
Oh, it’s been over the moon! Somebody brought us a bouquet of roses the other day, which was lovely. They’re still sitting by where we answer the phone. We’re getting a lot of shoutouts from social media and people honk their horns and wave and thank us. It’s been nice to feel so appreciated.
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