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Dauphin County Library System eliminates fines for late returns

The director says libraries have found that late fees and fines end up being roadblocks to those who need their services the most.
Credit: Dauphin County Library System

DAUPHIN COUNTY, Pa. — The Dauphin County Library System announced Wednesday it is going “fine-free,’’ extending a no late-fee policy enacted at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and joining libraries across the country to end a practice that was a barrier to access. 

In making the change, The DCLS joins other state libraries such as the Free Library of Philadelphia, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, Mt. Lebanon Public Library, Reading Public Library and Berks County Public Libraries in instituting a fine-free system.

Nationally, the New York Public Library, Chicago Public Library, LA County Library are among the hundreds of libraries no longer charging late fees, the DCLS said. 

“Our number one mission is to serve our community by connecting people with the knowledge and resources they need,” said Karen Cullings, the Library System’s executive director. “Unfortunately, libraries have found that late fees and fines end up being roadblocks to those who need our services the most.” 

For example, Cullings said, the Memphis Public Library went fine-free three years ago after research showed that family households making less than $25,000 held 33% of the unpaid fines. 

Additionally, evidence shows that eliminating fines has increased library card adoption and usage, according to the American Library Association. 

While late fees and fines are not a large part of The Library’s budget, Cullings said The Library is hoping the community will donate to help support the new policy. 

When visiting any of the eight locations or dcls.org/PayitForward, supporters can help “Pay it Forward” by donating to help us remain fine-free, she said. 

“We hope that many in the community will help us ease the burden on those who may have overdue books but fear returning to The Library because they can’t pay the fines,” Cullings said. “Members who return an item late and no longer have to pay a fine can ‘pay it forward by donating to help us continue the policy.’’

The Library makes it easy for members to avoid landing in the “overdue” category. Borrowers can receive five renewals on an item if there are no hold requests from other members. 

Also, members can return found items up to a year after the billing date to have replacement charges waived. 

As part of the new “fine-free” policy, The Library has new measures to encourage responsible borrowing.  

If a member has more than what would have amounted to $10 in fines, they can no longer:

  • Check out materials or borrow laptops 

  • Access Hoopla (which gives access to eBook, eAudio book, and eMusic titles) 

  • Reserve Library meeting rooms 

Additionally, if an item is not returned within 48 days from the due date, members receive a bill and are assessed a replacement fee. 

The account will be forwarded to a collection agency for those with unpaid balances of $45 or more. 

“With our new “fine-free” policy, we want to remove any roadblocks while encouraging members to use our resources responsibly,” Cullings said. “From helping children learn to read to assisting adults looking to find their next job or go back to school, we are committed to serving the community, and we believe going “fine-free” underscores that commitment.’’ 

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