The Sun Prairie Public Library will no longer charge overdue fines on most items after the Library Board approved a new policy.
Steev Baker, head of access and circulation services at the library, said some collections of items will still incur overdue fines: paid rental movies, books from the library’s “Buzz Books” section, storytime kits in the children’s section and items in the library’s video game collection.
Baker said the library wanted to reduce overdue fines to increase access to materials. Often, patrons with the most fines were those who were least able to pay those fines, he said.
“A lot of times what would happen is that people would maybe use the library once or twice, end up with a fine too large to pay, and then never come back,” Baker said. “And our whole purpose as an institution is to give people access to information and things that they wouldn’t normally be able to afford or have on their own.”
Library patrons can still incur fines for lost or damaged items, Baker added. After an item is 28 days overdue, it is automatically counted as lost and the patron is charged for the item’s full cost. The charge reverses if the item is returned.
Additionally, any existing fines on patron’s library cards will remain on those cards, Baker said. However, he added that he has encouraged library staff to have a policy of forgiveness rather than punishment.
Last year, the library received $43,661.15 from fines and charges for all materials, including those damaged or lost, according to Library Director Svetha Hetzler. In 2017, the library has collected $28,173 as of Sept. 13, Hetzler said.
She said the national trend across public libraries is to move away from reliance on fines, which are a small percentage of the Sun Prairie Public Library’s revenue and income.
Baker said the public perception is often that the library needs money from fines to continue operating, but the truth is libraries are publicly funded.
He also said an anticipated increase in funding from Dane County that would follow a higher number of materials checked out at the Sun Prairie Public Library would likely offset the revenue from fines.
Hetzler agreed, saying that new patrons from areas without a public library or those who like the Sun Prairie Public Library due to its location or policies can increase the library’s usage and may lead to an increase in county funding for the library.
“These friendlier policies that increase access and reduce barriers end up becoming, actually, a better source of revenue for the library,” she said.
In 2017, the Sun Prairie Public Library received $437,282 from Dane County, according to Hetzler. The library anticipates receiving $472,390 in 2018, an increase of more than $35,000.
Since county funding is based on the previous year’s circulation, Hetzler said they do not yet know how much the county funding might offset overdue charges in the coming year, but she anticipates the library will see more funding overall.
The library’s access department has also taken on other initiatives this year to get resources out to community members. Library staff members have visited community events including Sunshine Supper, farmer’s markets and the Family Fun Nights at Westside Elementary to bring books and materials to community members, Baker said. Additionally, he said the library is looking at redesigning its website to be more accessible.
The ultimate focus is on getting the most people access to the library’s services, Baker said.
“We don’t care who you are, where you live, how much money you make – we want you to be able to use the library,” he said.