Summit County library follows trend of waiving fines for overdue items
The Summit County Library is preparing to begin a new chapter in 2019 by waiving fines for overdue items, following a growing trend across the state and country.
Library officials began exploring the concept nearly a year ago after meeting with officials from the Salt Lake City Public Library, said Dan Compton, Summit County Library director. The Salt Lake City Library board of directors voted to do away with overdue fines in 2017.
The Summit County Library board of directors voted in September to go in that direction, Compton said. The board is expected to officially approve the new policy at its next meeting in January. The Park City Library also recently moved to get rid of overdue fines.
“So many libraries across the country and state have already started doing this and it is a trend that will continue to grow,” Compton said. “We are thrilled to move in this direction and excited to see what comes from it. I really do anticipate this will invite more users.”
The Summit County Library, which has branches in the Snyderville Basin, Coalville and Kamas, offers several items for check out, including books, magazines, movies and tablets. Other items are also available. Overdue fines for those items range between 10 cents and $1 a day, Compton said.
“Pretty much everything we check out could have a late fee,” he said. “Some items have higher fines, such as the mobile hot spots, which are $1 a day.”
The fees brought in roughly $11,000 in revenue in 2017. The money that is collected from fines is placed into the county’s general fund. The county allocates resources for the library system.
However, Compton said the revenue that is collected from fines does not justify the amount of staff time that is expended to collect the money.
“It is proving to be more money than it was worth to actually collect the fines,” he said. “I would rather have staff spending their time helping people in the library or going out in the community to support our programs rather than having to spend a good amount of time having those conversations where each transaction can take 5 to 10 minutes. It’s the No. 1 negative customer experience that people have.”
Compton hopes that doing away with the fines will remove a barrier for people who have stopped coming to the libraries altogether. He recognized that people get busy and sometimes items are late. He said people are often embarrassed when staff have to collect the late fees.
“Sometimes people can’t afford to pay the fine and they stop coming to the library,” he said. “When the parents can’t afford it, then a child is kept away who needs to be there learning and growing. That is something we do not want to support anymore. We want to completely remove that barrier and say, ‘You are fine and we want you back. We want you here.’ It’s such a silly thing that has been done for so long.”
Compton noted that people will still be responsible for returning items. But, he thinks the new approach could make the library a more welcoming place.
“We want people to come back,” he said. “I think this will be a positive thing for the community.”
The library’s board of directors is expected to approve the new policy in January. The Summit County Council would then have to approve the move as part of the county’s 2019 fee schedule. Compton said elected officials have been supportive of the idea. When Compton prepared his 2019 budget for the library, it reflected the drop in revenue that is anticipated.
Compton said the decision is in line with the Park City Library decision to drop overdue fines. The library board is expected to address the issue at a meeting on Dec. 19 to make changes to policies. The Park City Council was also supportive of the decision and approved the change at a recent meeting.
“When I’ve talked to other library directors where fines have been dropped, they said their new library cards are going up,” he said. “We want to see people using this wonderful community resource that is available to them and if we can remove this barrier why not? It makes sense to do this financially and we are thrilled to move in this direction. I’m excited to see what comes from it. I really do anticipate it will invite more people to use the library.”
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The Coalville native doesn’t see any major roadblocks for this year’s fair, though presenting in front of the County Council is a little nerve wracking.