The Kenai Community Library will no longer charge daily late fees for materials following a Kenai City Council vote in favor of the change Wednesday night. The resolution does not eliminate fees incurred for lost or damaged library items.
Library Director Katja Wolfe said in a memo to the council that the American Library Association passed a resolution in 2019 encouraging libraries to reevaluate the use of fines, which they say create a barrier to library and information services, and to start looking at getting rid of them entirely.
In Alaska and throughout the country, the number of libraries going fine-free is increasing. Curtis Rogers at the Urban Libraries Council said Thursday that more than 267 of the United States’ approximately 9,000 library systems have gone fine-free. According to the Urban Libraries Council, four libraries on the peninsula have also gone fine-free including Seldovia Public Library, Homer Public Library, Soldotna Public Library and Seward Community Library and Museum.
Getting rid of late fees will increase user access to library materials, reduce the inequitable impact of late fees, improve patron relationships with the library and will optimize library staff time and increase efficiency, the memo says.
“Fine free libraries are more accessible, equitable, and welcoming to all,” Wolfe says in the memo. “Libraries that have gone fine free have seen an increase in library card registrations, borrowing of materials, and customer satisfaction, as well as an improvement in staff morale.”
According to the resolution, the five-year average annual revenue the city receives from late fees is $8,821. The city received $4,561 in late fees in fiscal year 2020. Kenai City Manager Paul Ostrander said that funding for the library comes from the city’s general fund and that fee revenue usually goes back into that fund. Getting rid of library fees means about $8,821 will no longer go into the city’s general fund each year.
Wolfe said that the decline in revenue from late fees is due both to the COVID-19 pandemic and to a general increase in the amount of digital resources being checked out, which include e-books and audiobooks. Digital resources do not have late fees tied to them because once the checkout period is over they are automatically returned.
City Council member Jim Glendening said he has received several calls from community members concerned that eliminating the late fees will encourage people to not be as responsible with or to disrespect library materials. Wolfe said that when people return library materials late it is not always because they are irresponsible and that multiple studies have come out suggesting that fines do not impact when someone returns materials.
“The fine-free libraries have not seen an increase in late returns as compared to, say, a library that still charges fines,” Wolfe said at the Wednesday meeting.
Library users will still be expected to pay for lost or damaged library materials. The amount of money it costs to replace lost materials and the amount of time after which a material is considered “lost” depends on the type of item. Hardcover books, for example, have a $25 service charge whereas paperback books have a $15 charge. Books are considered “lost” after they have not been returned after 30 days if they have not been renewed, and 50 days if they have. Service charges and checkout period times for all materials can be viewed on the library website at kenai.city/library/page/kenai-community-library-policies-and-rules
Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at firstname.lastname@example.org.