Library system eliminates fines for overdue books

By HASKEL BURNS,

The Lamar County Library System has a bit of good news for bookworms who may not always be as punctual as they mean to be, as the Lamar County Library System Board of Trustees recently voted to eliminate overdue fees for patrons of the system’s four branches effective Oct. 1.

LCLS Director Phillip Carter said research into late fines has shown that the fees can discourage people from using libraries, and fines made up less than 1 percent of the system’s overall budget annually.

“We’re really shifting our focus to make sure that we are patron, user experience-driven,” he said. “We want to make sure that we’re providing the best possible service to all citizens of Lamar County. So we were looking at roadblocks to library service, and we’re finding more and more that the punitive nature of library fines is actually driving users away. 

“And in the library systems that have eliminated fines – both large systems that brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars in late fines, and even in small systems that brought in less than we did – they found that those fines were keeping people out and forcing parents into situations where they wouldn’t get library cards for their kids for fear of late fines.” 

Officials’ research also discovered that late fees disproportionately alienated low-income households from using libraries.

“So the board of trustees decided, after I presented some information to them, that it was in our best interest to eliminate overdue fines to make sure everyone had access to the resources we have to offer,” Carter said. 

Under the new policy, as long as a book is returned in good condition – even if it’s returned late – library patrons will not incur a fine. However, once a book is more than 30 days late, it becomes marked as “long overdue,” and a charge for the replacement of the book, along with a small processing fee, will be placed on the user’s account.

Once the book is returned, that charge will be taken off the account.

In additions, patrons who have overdue books will have a restriction placed on their account and will not be able to check out other materials or use library resources, including computers, until the book is returned.

The Lamar County Library System, which offers branches in Oak Grove, Purvis, Sumrall and Lumberton, saw more than 200,000 visits last year.

Sean Farrell, Director of The Library of Hattiesburg Petal & Forrest County, said although his library has no plans to eliminate late fees across the board, younger patrons enjoy fine-free status.

“Obviously, youngsters have less responsibility than adults, and it’s particularly hard to see a youngster run up fines and not be able to check out books,” he said. “So we have fine-free reading for youngsters, but at the current time we don’t have fine-free reading for adults.”