Elk Grove library eliminates fines for books and most materials
Mirroring a national trend, Elk Grove Village Public Library has become the latest in the suburbs to go fine-free, erasing accumulated charges on cardholders' accounts and eliminating overdue fees for books and most other materials going forward.
Library officials who recommended the policy change, and six of seven board members who approved it, say the action will attract new users to the library and encourage former patrons to come back. Officials also said fines can have a significant impact on families and be an economic barrier, making the decision timely in light of the current economic crisis and COVID-19.
The board and staff "want to be there for the community, and believe the community needs (the library) too," said Library Director Debra Nelson.
Nelson said the library was moving in the fines-free direction months before the Chicago Public Library announced its decision to do so in September 2019. Elk Grove's library did a fines-free trial run last summer, and found there were considerably fewer overdue items compared to the summer before, she said.
Nearly 5,000 patrons today have overdue fines on their accounts, representing almost 20% of all cardholders, according to statistics provided by Nelson.
The largest single overdue fine on an individual's card is $315, but more than half the library's borrowers owe less than $10.
Once the library reopens, all those fines will be officially eliminated, giving everyone a clean slate, officials said.
However, higher-priced, high-demand items such as iPads and GoPro cameras will still be incur late fees.
And while patrons won't be charged fines anymore, they can be locked out of future borrowing privileges when an item is 14 days overdue. An account can be turned over to a collection agency after 60 days with a $9 collection fee tagged on, but if the item is then returned, the library won't charge its own late fee, Nelson said.
The change will have a minimal impact on the library's budget, Nelson said, because only about $27,000 in fines were collected this fiscal year, which accounts for less than 0.5% of revenue.