Dubuque Library drops fines after test run

DUBUQUE — The Dubuque Public Library is no longer charging fines to users who are late in getting books and other materials back in.

Carnegie-Stout Library Director Susan Henricks says they were worried that the fines would limit the access of some residents. “What may be just a slap on the wrist for many people — you just grumble, you pay the fine — is a complete barrier to others. When they have to make decisions about, if I have ten or 15 dollars, I am not going to run down to the library and pay my fine first,” Henricks says.

She says they decided to try a six-month trial of not charging the fines to see what type of impact it had on borrowing. “You know, are the shelves just being pillaged, is stuff never coming back, how effective are the fines,” Henricks says. “Complete that study… based on what I found, fines were just not an effective way to get materials back.”

Henricks took a closer look at the numbers and discovered something else. “What we learned is that overall there was no difference,” she says. “If you start looking at it in individual categories — we saw that it was statistically significant that we got more materials back that were significantly overdue.”

She says people who kept things past the seven days figured they just needed a little more time and it didn’t bother them that much. And she says the fines for materials being a few days overdue didn’t pay off for the bottom line.”It cost us more to collect for fines than we took in. So, there was another reason. So, if it is not working and it is costing more to take it in, why are you doing it? So, we just adopted policies that interestingly they might be even a little stricter than they were — it just doesn’t involve money,” Henricks explains.

She says the new policies send a message to those who are tardy returners. “If you have an item that is seven days overdue, your account is completely frozen. You can’t use the computers, you can’t get online access, you can’t borrow anything until your item or items are returned,” Henricks says. “You will also get a notice that says ‘hey you are seven days overdue, you are cut off.’ That is usually a good enough incentive.”

Once materials are 14 days overdue you get another notice, and when they are 28 days overdue you get an invoice for the cost of the item. If you bring the item in at that time you don’t have to pay. Under Iowa law an item that is 60 days overdue is consider stolen, but Henricks says they try to resolve those before taking the legal action.

Henricks says she knows the Council Bluffs Library has gone to a no fines policy and there may be others in the state too. She says it seems to be a trend around the country as they libraries realized the fines are not working as they were intended

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