Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
The Kalona Public Library plans to go fine free starting July 1, according to Library Director Trevor Sherping. The move will make it the 16th institution to do so in the state of Iowa.
“We’re pretty proud to be on the front end of this movement,” he said. “Our main mission is to serve everybody in the community. For a long time the thought in library spaces was that fines would be a sort of motivation to bring back materials. Over decades of trying it, libraries and researchers found that that simply isn’t the case.”
Sherping said the elimination of overdue fines was the ideal move for the library’s goals.
“The library does not exist to make money,” he said. “Our primary mission is to promote access for all sorts of information for anyone who needs it. By eliminating fines, we allow every single person in the community to come back into the library and create a more inclusive space that hopefully will increase trust in our institution.”
The institution will maintain fines for lost or damaged books, as well as other fees like printing and faxing costs. Overdue fees, however, will end, and all overdue balances on patron accounts will be forgiven.
“You do not have to pay for an item if you return it late,” Sherping said. “Every overdue fine that is previously accrued will be forgiven, and that effects quite a large number of patrons.”
That’s a sizable number of people.
“Currently 618 patron accounts are suspended simply because of outstanding overdue fees,” Sherping said. “That’s 618 people who can’t use the library because of overdue fines. In most cases when I was looking through the report, that’s $5-$6. At 618, that’s 13% of all patron accounts.”
Sherping said he was confident the move would vastly improve the library’s accessibility.
“When you think about somebody from a low socioeconomic status … it may be easier for them to just not come back to the library, that $5-10 fine may be too much,” he said. “By eliminating that overdue fine, we’re hoping that the library serves everybody, especially those more vulnerable populations who the library should be a welcoming place for. They’re the ones, often, who need it the most, and by having fines we end up inadvertently discriminating them.”
The change is not expected to impact library revenue. Sherping said the building took in $581 in overdue fines in the last year, just 0.22% of its budget, a difference the Kalona Library Foundation has already agreed to make up.
“Overdue fines are often thought to be far more important to the library’s fiscal health than is actually the case,” he said. “It is far more minimal than most people think, and that makes it a pretty easy decision. Eliminating overdue fines in almost no way effects the financial health of our institution.”
The library is maintaining other incentives to bring materials back on time. If a patron has at least 10 overdue materials, their account will be suspended until materials are returned.
“The truth is that we always run into that issue whether we have overdue fines or not,” he said. “Everything is still going to have a due date like normal, we will be asking obviously that patrons are responsible users of the library and return materials.”
Sherping also cited studies showing little correlation between overdue fines and return rates.
One of those, an analysis by former Syracuse University Librarian Sabrina Unrein, said the best data was still mediocre, and nearly 40 years out of date.
"More often than not, the justification for library fines seems to have stemmed from assumptions or feelings rather than explicit facts supported by research and data,“ she said. ”It is clear that in the current literature there is no strong, wide-scale evidence that supports the claim that library fines are effective for all of the reasons people use to defend them.“
In any case, Sherping said he had high hopes about the new policy.
“This is a change that I’m very excited for, that I have envisioned for our library for a couple of years,” he said. “I think it’s really going to benefit the community and I’m excited that so many people are going to be able to use the library again.”