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Western Kentucky libraries make ‘overdue’ change to eliminate late fees

McCracken County Public Library eliminated its late fees in April 2020
McCracken County Public Library eliminated its late fees in April 2020

Several libraries in western Kentucky have eliminated their patrons’ overdue fines in order to create better access to library materials.

The McCracken County Public Library eliminated its late fees in 2020. Library director Justin Brasher says the late fees can make it difficult for patrons to return material.

“Going fine-free erases barriers to library use that disproportionately affect low-income households, especially families,” Brasher says. “ Libraries provide a significant social benefit to low-income patrons, allowing them access to a wide variety of materials and services for little or no cost.”

Late fees accounted for less than 1% of the McCracken County Library’s revenue. Brasher says the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

“Every patron who learns we don't have late fees gets that ‘I just won the lottery’ look on that face that I love to see,” Brasher says. “Not only do more books come back, but books are often returned earlier than before.”

The Marshall County Public Library is one of the most recent libraries in western Kentucky to terminate its late fees. Branch manager for the library Lenisa Jones says the terminations will make the library more accessible to patrons.

“It eliminates any reason or any kind of barrier for someone coming back to visit us due to a late fee,” she said.

Graves County Public Library in Mayfield has temporarily waived its patrons’ fees for the month of January in response to December’s tornado outbreak. Any patrons who claim the material they’ve checked out was lost or damaged from the tornado can still have their fees waived. Officials with the Graves County Public Library say this protocol will last until the beginning of March, when late fees will resume.

An ongoing trend of libraries in the U.S. permanently terminating late fees has generated discussions among libraries here locally.

The New York City Public Library recently terminated all late fees for it’s patrons. These terminations were put in place to incentivize patrons into using library materials.

The COVID-19 pandemic had effects on book returns due to quarantine and the tedious process of disinfecting the books before they could be returned. McCracken Public Library terminated late fees on April 28, 2020 when the pandemic was in its infancy.

Brasher says late fees are like a deterrent for patrons. He says though people still want to use library materials they are still wary of fines. In certain libraries, an excessive amount of fines can also result in a card block where patrons are not allowed to use materials until their fines are paid.

“I'm proud we can help lead the trend as libraries all over America go fine free,” Brasher added.

This story has been edited to remove an outdated reference to a Kansas City Public Library program.

Mason Galemore is a Murray State student studying journalism. He was the editor-in-chief of his high school newspaper. Since then has explored different publication avenues such as broadcasting. He hopes to travel as a journalist documenting conflict zones and different cultures. He remembers watching the Arab Spring in 2011 via the news when he was a kid, which dawned in a new age of journalism grounded in social media. His favorite hobbies are hiking, photography, reading, writing and playing with his Australian Shepard, Izzy. He is originally from Charleston, Missouri.
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