The Ellsworth Public Library still wants its books and DVDs returned on time, but starting in two months, some patrons will get a break if they’re late.
To encourage more children and young adults, particularly those from low-income families, to use the library and check out books, Ellsworth’s library will no longer charge overdue fines on children’s materials — children’s and young adult books and DVDs. Overdue fine collections will cease Sept. 1, but all other fines will remain in place, said Amy Wisehart, the library’s director.
With this idea, which the library’s board of directors approved June 24, Ellsworth joins a number of libraries around the state, including those in Bangor, Belfast, Blue Hill and Northeast Harbor, that have set aside overdue collection fees either for children’s materials or their entire collections because they are negligible and likely discouraging to folks who cannot afford the fees, Wisehart said.
“A lot of libraries in Maine are considering it. It is not a statistic that libraries track,” Wisehart said Thursday. “What is harder to measure is that fines can be a deterrent for low-income families.”
“The evidence is anecdotal,” Wisehart said.
A 2013 study commissioned by the Colorado State Library found that overdue fees on children’s materials are not particularly effective in encouraging the timely return of materials, are costly to administer and act as a deterrent to low-income families using the library.
“Along with transportation and scheduling issues, respondents to the survey identified library fines as a one of the ‘things that get in the way’ of their use of the library,” the study reads. “Further anecdotal stories in focus groups with low-income parents in the study reveal that both fines for late items and fees for lost or damaged books make parents reluctant to check out books and to have their children enjoy library books at all.”
Ellsworth’s fines for overdue children’s items — 15 cents per day on a book, 50 cents per day on a DVD — amounted to a total of about $3,000 for the library during the last fiscal year, which ended June 30, Wisehart said. That’s less than half of one percent of the library’s approximately $700,000 budget this year.
Patrons who fail to return items eventually lose their library card privileges and have to pay the value of the book or the DVD, plus a $5 processing fee, for the return of their privileges, Wisehart said.
To offset the loss of fees on overdue items, the Ellsworth library on Monday will start a campaign to raise $3,000. As of Thursday, the campaign had raised $300 from one patron.
The library has slightly more than 4,000 active cardholders and a collection of about 47,000 items, Wisehart said.