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Library Late Fees Cut In Pasco County

Row of books on shelf
Cathy Carter
Overdue books can be returned with fees waived from February 10 to March 10, 2020. Credit Cathy Carter WUSF News

Typically, if a public library book isn’t returned, someone would be charged late fees. But now, Pasco County is following a national trend and eliminating the overdue fines.

The new policy went into effect Monday. Similar plans have already been implemented in other Florida counties including Hillsborough, Sarasota, Palm Beach, and Miami-Dade.

Pasco County libraries report that removing late fees not only benefits customers but also the libraries’ finances. In fiscal 2019, the libraries received $67,288 from late fees, but had to use $386,345 in order to manage and collect fees, as well as pay administrators of the process.

Officials also say that the new policy is time-effective. By removing the energy spent on collecting late fees, library staff will be able to focus more on conducting activities for the community, maintaining the library collection, and presenting instructional and enrichment programs.

“Libraries are sort of recognizing what some other systems and major cities like Chicago and Los Angeles… [are doing and] the decisions that they've made to go fine-free are really having some major effects,” said Paul Negron, Communications Manager at Urban Libraries Council. “There was a report after Chicago Public Library went fine-free, that actually triggered a 240% increase in book returns over a three-week period right after the decision.”

The American Library Association issued a resolution last year that stated library fines are a “form of social inequity,” and advised libraries to eliminate them. Around 220 libraries across the nation in cities from St. Paul, Minnesota to Glendale, California have already cut the fees.

“We're finding that low-income individuals are coming back to the library, re-engaging in many of the services that the library offers that will help...work on issues like education or workforce or get access to the internet,” said Negron. “As well as children, who are engaging with the library for the first time if they are encountering...fines they’re being disenfranchised from the library.”

According to Pasco County Libraries, of their almost 250,000 cardholders, 16%; almost 40,000 people, were unable to check out books or use some of the services, because of late fines.

The libraries are going to have an amnesty period for people to return currently overdue books without paying. It starts Monday and lasts for a month.

All Pasco County libraries will take part in the removal of late fees, except for the New Port Richey Public Library. Due dates for materials will remain the same, but automatic renewals will incur up to five times unless someone requests the item.

If an item is not returned, the cardholder’s account will be blocked until the book is brought back to the library or the replacement fee is paid. While blocked, the member will be unable to check out additional items, request reserved items, or access many digital resources, but they may still use computers and participate in programs and events.

With technology becoming more prominent, Negron says that physical books are becoming less relevant.

“Libraries have become much more impactful and…are much more than a place to check out books,” said Negron. “Many libraries are meeting spaces for organizations, they are training services for the community members, there are after school activities happening. The library is really becoming the hub of the community.

“The future is really making sure that every member of the community has access to all of the services that libraries offer.”

For more information about how Pasco County libraries will handle overdue materials, visit their website.

Vanessa Henry is a WUSF/USF Zimmerman School digital news intern for spring 2020.
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