Things are no longer just “fine” at Alamance County’s libraries – at least not when it comes to the financial penalties that patrons had traditionally incurred for overdue items.
Since July 1, the county’s library system has been loaning books and other materials on a fine-free basis, and so far, this new policy has been a welcome development to the system’s patrons and staff members alike.
Susana Goldman, the library system’s director, conceded that borrowers have responded well to the change in policy, which the libraries received permission to adopt under the county’s current annual budget.
“A lot of people have come in to pay their fines and were pleasantly surprised,” Goldman recalled in an interview. “And so far, people are still returning their stuff on time.”
Under the library system’s new policy, patrons still have a specified period of time to return books and other borrowed materials. They’ll also receive overdue notices some 14 days after they were supposed to have brought back these items, and the library system will automatically block their accounts if the items remain overdue for 22 days.
Although the county’s libraries had previously forgiven late fees when they reopened for business during the coronavirus pandemic, the new fine-free policy is the first time that the system has eliminated these financial penalties on a permanent basis. The system’s administrators ultimately embraced this change as a practical measure that could potentially bring more visitors to Alamance County’s libraries.
“As there is no evidence that charging overdue fines increases prompt returns,” the system declared when it announced the new policy last month, “and this accounts for less than 1 percent of [the library system’s] revenues, this change will remove punitive actions for late materials resulting in less staff time managing patron fines and a boost in community morale.”
The library system’s transition to a fine-free policy hasn’t come as much of a jolt to staff members such as Lacey Tobias, who began to work for the libraries in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We weren’t charging the fines during the pandemic,” Tobias explained last Monday as she tended the checkout at the system’s Graham branch, “and so it was a cinch to get rid of them completely.”
The elimination of late fees has also received rave reviews from library goers like Yvonne Funk, who passed through the Graham branch last Monday afternoon. Although Funk insisted that she has always been timely with her own library returns, she found the system’s new policy to be a “fair” one – especially when coupled with the reopening of her beloved library off of South Main Street in Graham.
“I was getting so desperate,” she said as she as she swapped out a well-thumbed book for a couple of new ones from the library’s collections, “I was down to reading the instruction manual on my microwave.”
Goldman said that, even as the county’s libraries go fine free, their patrons could still incur charges if they happen to lose the items they’ve checked out from the library.
Under the system’s current policy, a book or audiovisual recording is automatically declared “lost” if it’s more than 49 days overdue, and patrons must then pay the full replacement cost if they want to have their borrowing privileges reinstated. Goldman nevertheless added that, even if items are declared lost, borrowers can still avoid payment as long as they’re able to scrounge up the overdue materials when they’re ready to reactivate their accounts.
“As long as the item is returned,” Goldman said, “that charge will go away.”