San Rafael, CA – Concerns about being penalized with fines can be a significant barrier to library access and drive borrowers away, particularly those living on low or fixed incomes. So, the Marin County Free Library (MCFL) is doing away with them as of July 1.
That’s mighty fine news!
After July 1, librarians such as the Civic Center Branch's Jan Walt will no longer have to accept fines for late materials, which is sure to make patrons like Lisa Michael quite happy.
“We have taken huge strides in recent years to make all our services more equitable and be as inclusive as possible,” said MCFL Director Sara Jones. “Everyone should have equal access to our materials regardless of their financial status or any other factor.”
The Marin County Board of Supervisors approved the change during its June 18 meeting. MCFL, which eliminated fines on children’s materials in 2015, is joining other Bay Area library systems such as Contra Costa County, San Mateo County, Alameda County, Oakland and Berkeley in taking steps to go full-on fine-free. Research shows that fine-free libraries enjoy more library visits, increased usage of library materials, and increased customer satisfaction.
Previously, MCFL charged 25 cents a day for most items, and patrons weren’t allowed to check out items if they had more than $10 in fines. Jones said revenue from fines amounted to trace elements of MCFL’s budget – less than half a percent.
“In fact, it costs the library more in staff time to collect and account for the fees than the fees generate,” Jones said. “Fines don’t really incentivize people to return our content on time, anyway. This is a win-win because our patrons will be happy and our staff will be happy. That saved staff time can be devoted to more patron services.”
All existing fines will be wiped clean from patron accounts starting July 1. That said, library patrons are urged to return materials on time so others may take their turn, and at libraries that have gone fine-free, they usually do. MCFL will continue to send email reminders about due dates.
Jones said she hopes the elimination of fines will result in a surge in library use by those who might have been stressed about paying up.
“When we did away with fines for kids’ materials, people were grateful and we experienced a boost in visitors,” Jones said. “It would be nice to see that again.”
Not all libraries in Marin are part of the 10-branch MCFL system. Overdue items borrowed from other MARINet libraries such as those in San Rafael, San Anselmo, Sausalito, Belvedere-Tiburon, Larkspur, and Mill Valley, are still subject to fines unless a similar policy has been adopted. Lost items or items not returned to the library will be subject to replacement costs.