Overdue book? Fines going away

FAIRMONT — Change is coming to the Martin County Library, and it’s good news for local patrons.

As part of what appears to be a national trend, overdue fines are starting to become a thing of the past. Recognized as more of a hindrance than a help, all overdue charges will disappear in 2018 and library director Jenny Trushenski was happy to share the news.

“We are going overdue fine free starting in 2018,” she said. “At the end of this year, we will have the computer system purge the old overdue fines so everyone will start fresh in the new year. Moving forward, if you bring something back late there will not be a charge.”

Trushenski noted that everything will still have a due date, with books due in three weeks and DVDs due in a week, but a missed deadline will simply no longer result in a fee.

“Our biggest thing as a library is we just want our things back,” Trushenski said. “If they’re a week late, a couple of days late, we just want them back. A lot of people have a dollar here or a dollar there, and over time that adds up for them and doesn’t always build good will between the patrons and us.

“A big part of the change is that the public library is here to serve the entire public and when those fines become a financial burden for people, they can’t come here because their fines are too high. Previously we would block a card at $10, but we don’t want people to feel like they can’t come in here because they can’t afford to pay their fines. With kids, we would be at the schools and they would say they can’t check out books from the library because of late fines on their card, and that’s not what we’re about.”

Trushenski noted the decision was made by the Martin Count Library Board to establish the policy, due to the realization that fines were hindering service to the public. She said the board also realized that it cost money to bring money in, due to accounting and auditing to track the relatively meager fines.

“We’re about serving the public and being here for people and providing access to everyone regardless of their financial status,” Trushenski said.

When asked about how the change might affect the public’s attitude and incentive to return borrowed material, Trushenski noted that studies have shown fines were never an incentive in the first place.

“Library fines were never a real incentive for people to return things; they either bring them back to the library or they don’t. So what you end up doing with fines is penalizing people who are bringing things back. Libraries have charged fines for years, and people still bring things back late all the time.

“So if it was our job to teach people to be responsible that really didn’t work. For us, we just encourage people that even if it’s been a while, to bring things back.

“The whole reason libraries work is that we pool the money, buy something, and share it, and when we’re not able to share something because people don’t bring it back, then the whole premise behind the public library doesn’t work.”

Trushenski said fines were less than 1 percent of the annual budget, and it is felt the difference can easily be made up via write-in grants.

She also said Martin County is not the first place to try this and, so far, people keeping things for extended periods of time has not been a reported issue. However, she did say that not all charges will be going away.

“Certainly if someone checks a bunch of stuff out and never brings it back, then there are still fees assessed to them. So the weekly overdue fines are going away, but we are still going to be charging if you lose something, never bring it back or bring it back damaged.”

According to Trushenski, the change is set to go in effect for all branches of the Martin County Library, and will be permanent.

“We hope this will encourage people who haven’t come in for a while and build up good will,” she said. “We have a lot of very loyal patrons who are in all the time. It’s about serving the public, that’s what we’re here for.”