The end of library fines in Lafayette Parish?

(Photo: Advertiser file photo)

Fines for overdue items may soon become a thing of the past for the Lafayette Public Library System.

This week, the library’s board of control voted to eliminate fines, plus remove existing fines from patron records.

The proposal is in the hands of city-parish attorneys, who will determine whether the change needs final approval from the Lafayette City-Parish Council.

“Fines have always been a tradition for libraries, because they think people bring (items) back because there is a fine.

I can’t find any data to support that,” said Interim Library Director Teresa Elberson.

“The fines penalize people, and we’ve found through the years that they penalize the young kids and the low income people the most,” Elberson continued.  “People feel guilty. They want to use the library, but they have fines. We want those people to come back and use the library. We don’t want people to have to be scared.”

Currently, the library issues overdue fines of 5 cents per day for most books and CDs, and 25 cents per day for interlibrary loan items, DVDs and video games.

Elberson said the fines bring in about $138,000 to the library system each year, comprising a fraction of its $13 million annual budget. The fines are separate from taxes dedicated to the library, which go toward operating expenses.

There would still be due dates for all items, and the library would still send overdue notices to patrons who do not return materials on time.

Patrons could also be denied access to some online services if they have overdue materials, although there would no longer be a financial penalty.

Patrons would still have to pay for lost or damaged materials.

Elberson said she would expect a large influx of returned materials if fines were waived.

“The library means we want you to come and use the computers and check out books,” said Board of Control President Yung Hsing-Wu. “This proposal speaks to that. I think the spirit of it is great.”

Board member Jamal Taylor agreed the elimination of fines would be a benefit.

“I think this is amazing. I think that people should have access to books,” he said.

According to the Public Library Association, libraries in states including Illinois, Massachusetts, Ohio and Colorado have eliminated fines in recent years.

However, the practice still is relatively new.

In a November piece for Public Libraries Online, Julia Pyatetsky noted that eliminating fines may not be feasible for smaller library systems that rely heavily on those funds.

She added that an increasing number of libraries seem to be looking for ways to remove barriers to access.

“We want to make the library institution as accessible as possible for anybody,” she wrote “The trend with public libraries does appear to be moving towards a more goodwill approach, so perhaps we’ll see more libraries jumping on the bandwagon in the next few years.”

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