Lawrence libraries dropping late fines amid national push

December 22, 2019 GMT

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The Lawrence library is joining a growing number that are dropping fines for overdue books.

The library’s board voted unanimously Tuesday to make the change, The Lawrence Journal-World reports. Library patrons would still be charged for lost or damaged items. Patrons also would be blocked from checking out additional books and materials once an item became two weeks overdue, but return of the overdue item would immediately restore access.

Among those expressing concerns was Michael Austin, who said the change could result in people keeping books for long periods of time, ultimately reducing access to those materials for everyone else.

But Brad Allen, the library’s executive director, said eliminating overdue fines is in line with the stance of the American Library Association that library policies should not disadvantage low-income people. The ALA officially came out against charging fines earlier this year, citing concerns that fines create barriers to library materials and services.

Last month, Phoenix libraries stopped charging fines, joining library systems in Utah, Ohio, Tennessee, Colorado and California that previously made the change.

Lawrence library board member Brady Flannery said that he was not going to fight to hold onto a practice that has not necessarily been proven effective.

“I do think it’s an opportunity to reach more customers, to reach them differently, to engage them more,” Flannery said.

Currently, people who fail to return library materials on time are charged 15 cents per day with a maximum overdue charge of $4.50 per item.

Under the change, all currently accumulated overdue fines, which total about $300,000, will be waived from all accounts. The library has already arranged its 2020 budget to accommodate the loss of revenue from fines, which is about $115,000 annually.

Allen said he expects the fines will be eliminated beginning Jan. 1.