City of Dubuque administrative leaders have endorsed a proposal to eliminate most late fines at the community’s public library.
Carnegie-Stout Public Library leaders have asked the Dubuque City Council to write off about $62,000 in projected net revenue in the upcoming fiscal year. The money would have come from fines collected from patrons with overdue materials.
If the policy ultimately is adopted by City Council members, the library would resume its fine-free policy at the start of the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. The request was presented Monday during the library’s departmental budget hearing.
Council members will vote on the finalized fiscal year 2020 budget following a public hearing at 6 p.m. March 7 at the Historic Federal Building, 350 W. Sixth St.
The library piloted a fine-forgiveness program from July 1 through the end of 2018. In December, the Carnegie-Stout Public Library Board of Trustees voted to permanently continue the program.
According to library leadership, fines create barriers to access.
“The motive for motivational fines has been to increase access,” Library Director Susan Henricks said. “For most of us, fines would not be a problem. But for others, a fine is an insurmountable obstacle, and those people just stop using the library. This has a major impact on children. They don’t get to choose when library day is. They have to rely on an adult to take them.”
After evaluating the six-month pilot program, Henricks reported a 4.2 percent drop in the number of youth accounts being frozen, which she thought significant.
The library predicts $66,000 in gross revenue loss, which would be offset somewhat by $4,307 in savings from a drop in credit card fees and from having fewer reasons to tap collection agencies to track down payments.
“We have found that through early intervention — where people are contacted right away — they’re more likely to respond,” Henricks said. “They’ll pay that off or return things a lot faster. When a balance hits $25, it is turned over to a collection agency. The only reason now would be if people would be billed for the cost of a replacement.”
According to evaluation, since the fine-free program began, more materials were returned.
Council Member David Resnick asked if it was really too much to ask that people pay 20 cents per item per day if they can’t return it on time.
Council Member Brett Shaw, though, lauded what he saw as the library’s progressive vision.
“It is not the library’s responsibility to teach responsibility,” he said.