The Tehama County libraries will no longer be charging late fees, announced Todd Deck, Tehama County librarian.

“We believe in providing access to books and digital resources for all,” he said. “Eliminating the barrier of late fees means that more of our patrons will be able to use our services.”

COVID-19 has changed many things for the library system in the county.

“Part of our limited reopening strategy included not charging late fees,” Deck added. “This was to promote social distancing and self-service models. As the uncertain nature of COVID-19 continues, we need to officially be fine- free.”

He believes Tehama County is better when everyone has access to its programs, services, and materials in order to pursue their dreams.

“Late fines are only effective at encouraging people to stop using the library...not to return materials on time,” Deck said.

Studies have shown fines have no impact on return rates.

According to Removing Barriers to Access, a Colorado State Library whitepaper, “The scant research on the impact of library fines and fees does not indicate a clear benefit to administering these policies and may be costly to enforce,” Deck shares.

“What we do know is this, of our 15,000 patrons, 5,000 have accounts that are blocked and have not used the library in over a year,” he added.

Last year, the library collected $6,000 from overdue fines, representing less than 1.9 percent of the library system's overall annual operating budget.

“We estimate that going fine-free would result in a reduction of staff time to collect and process overdue fines; it will also encourage the return of library materials, so many items will not have to be repurchased. Once implemented at the Tehama County Library, a fine-free program is estimated to save $7,280 annually,” Deck said.

In addition, handling of late fees requires considerable contact between library patrons and staff and can create lines at service counters.

“Without late fees, we have been able to exclusively use our self-service kiosk at the Red Bluff Library. The reality of COVID 19 is that we need to have as simple of a transaction model as possible,” Deck states. “Removing late fees promotes this value.”

He emphasizes the move to eliminate fines will not come at a cost to taxpayers.

“We plan on adjusting our printing charges to cover any losses and, if need be, adjusting other areas of our budget. Our plan is that going fine-free will get more people using the library without any net cost,” Deck said.

What fine-free means for cardholders is no longer receiving daily late fines on overdue items, however, cardholders are still responsible for returning their checked-out items.

“We do want all items back,” Deck added. “The library will still send you a series of reminders to return your items. If you damage a book or do not return it you will still need to pay for it.”

Going fine-free is a big change for the library community, with the hope that removing the fine-barrier will encourage usage and help the community recover from the challenges of COVID-19.

“Most importantly we want to remove the shame that being late with a library book can cause,” Deck said. “I cannot think of a better way to start 2021.”

The fine-free program was approved by the Tehama County Board of Supervisors in December.

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