St. Louis County Library and St. Louis Public Library announced this week they will no longer be charging patrons “nickel-and-dime” overdue fees.
Library directors cited research showing late fees deter the public from returning books and using the library altogether.
The type of policy has become a growing trend nationwide although the Washington Public Library and Scenic Regional Library System stopped charging for overdue books over 10 years ago.
Steve Campbell, director of Scenic Regional Library, said his library branches have not charged overdue fines since 2007.
“It’s a good policy to have in place,” he said.
Campbell noted that when he first joined the Scenic Regional Library system in 2012, he was amazed the library did not penalize late returns. But he soon saw the reason why.
“The interactions with the public are so much more positive,” he remarked. “Customer interactions are no longer about ‘you owe us this much money.’ ”
Campbell also pointed to the research behind the policy.
“The research shows people don’t return books when they have fines,” he said, adding customers are more willing to use the library again if they are not being charged small overdue fees.
The libraries in the St. Louis area said overdue fees are difficult to collect, and an obstacle for the financially insecure.
In addition, overdue fees result in little monetary gain.
“Fines make up less than 1 percent of our revenue,” Campbell said.
The Washington Public Library ended its policy of overdue fees when it began partnering with Scenic Regional about 10 years ago.
“We do charge for damage and lost property,” said Nelson Appell.
However, customers cannot keep books indefinitely.
Scenic Regional Library and the Washington Public Library, like libraries without late fees, charge customers if an item is lost. The libraries also will deny services to patrons who fail to pay for lost or damaged materials.
“After six weeks, the customer is billed for the cost of the book,” noted Campbell. “There are no more 5-cent-a-day charges, though.”
Kansas City Public Libraries announced last summer they were discontinuing their late fee policies, and the practice continues to grow.
Campbell was proud to know Scenic Regional and Washington are years ahead of the movement.