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Albany Public Library To Eliminate Late Fines

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Public libraries are breaking from age-old traditions as they look for additional ways to stay relevant in the digital era.

This month the Albany Public Library made an announcement that caught some patrons off-guard: Library Executive Director Scott Jarzombek says as of January 1st, it is eliminating late fees and forgiving previously accrued late fines.   "This is a national trend across the country. Actually Denver Public Library, the day after we announced, Denver Public Library said they would be going fine-free as well. Books will still need to be returned, and if books aren't returned they will be billed. Newer, more popular items will be billed sooner. What happens when an item is billed is you'll no longer be able to use your library card."

Jarzombek  says borrowers typically do not return to the library when materials are overdue. "So we're hoping that this will reduce that barrier. We'll see more items returned and we'll see people from the community who have been, you know, kind of shamed into not coming through the door, coming through the door again."

Chris Sagaas, Director of the Utica Public Library, says most of the branches in the MidYork Library System have been fine-free for some time. Fines and fees are still assessed if a patron fails to return an item. "The life of a clerk and the people who deal with our public day in and day out at every public library is extremely stressful and often very contentious. So one of the benefits that we have seen here going to a fine-free model is that there's a lot less conflict between library users and our staff. And from a perspective of having us put our best foot forward, having our best face on for the people who come through our doors, removing conflict and aggression or the possibility for it is a good thig, I think, for library services."

Jarzombek isn't concerned about any loss of revenue by canceling fines. "A lot of our 'power-users' are really good about returning their items. We've become really good at reminding people that their items are late, and also people are able to go online and renew their items. We don't collect as much in fines as we used to. And its shrunken to a point where we really viewed its as 'is it worth the money to create a barrier for users?' On top of that, the Albany Public Library for the last four years has been looking at alternative revenue streams. An example of that is the partnership we have with CDTA where people can buy or replenish their Navigator card. These revenue streams are great because they do two things: they bring money into the organization, so they'll be making up for that money lost not collecting fines, and additionally they've been bringing new people into the building."

The new policy is being finalized prior to the January 1 implementation. Jarzombek  notes updates will be shared on the library’s website, on social media channels, and in its branches.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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