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Capital Region News

Troy Library Goes Fine-Free

Library bookshelves (file photo)
Pat Bradley/WAMC

Another Capital Region library branch is doing away with late fees.

The Troy Public Library has rescinded the traditional fine imposed when a borrower returns a book or other item late. Library director Paul Hicok says Troy joins hundreds of libraries across the country in changing policy.   "The largest I guess was the Chicago Public Library, which eliminated late fines fairly recently. And of course, locally, Albany Public Library has eliminated late fines as well. It was felt that fines and late fees that libraries had been charging became a kind of a barrier for people, and many people were unable to continue to use the library because they could not afford to pay their late fees. It was also discovered by a number of libraries that late fines were not really working in terms of encouraging people to bring back material."

The Albany Public Library went fine-free in January 2019.  Utica Public Library Director Chris Sagaas says most of the branches in the MidYork Library System have been fine-free since early 2018.    "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 thing, I think, for library services."

After its first year of being fine-free, the MidYork system, which spans Herkimer, Madison, and Oneida counties, saw average monthly checkouts go up about 20 percent from the previous fiscal year while online renewals dropped off almost entirely. Officials say circulation has increased but couldn't provide an inventory count. Nearly half of the libraries in the 43 library MidYork system are fine-free.

Saying fees create a potential barrier to literacy and information, Hicok notes fines represented less than 1 percent of the Troy Library's $1.3 million dollar budget. He adds that with the rules change, now effective, books, magazines, CD’s and DVD's will still need to be returned, and if outstanding items aren't returned within 30 days, the borrower will be billed, and it goes on his or her record.   "And if you have more than $10 on your record you would be unable to take out any more materials."

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