No more late fees for Naperville library patrons
The Naperville Public Library has joined a growing number of suburban agencies in eliminating overdue fines, an initiative that leaders say will help ease the financial burden and provide more equitable access to materials and services.
Starting June 1, Naperville library patrons are no longer accruing late fees if they fail to bring back books or other items on time, Executive Director Dave Della Terza said. Instead, their accounts are locked after seven days, meaning they won't be able to check out any new materials or access online collections until an overdue item is returned.
The policy change encourages customers to continue using library services without fear of financial retribution, Della Terza said.
"Overdue fines create barriers to access, particularly for low-income families and children," he said. "Our goal is to get books and materials back into the hands of our community members who need them the most."
Following a growing trend nationwide, several suburban library districts have nixed fines in recent years, including in Arlington Heights, Des Plaines, Palatine, Schaumburg, Algonquin, Elk Grove Village, Lincolnshire, Lake Zurich, Bolingbrook, Downers Grove and Wheaton.
Budgetary considerations and concerns over a lack of accountability prevented the Naperville library from adopting such a policy sooner, Della Terza said. If residents weren't at risk of being penalized, he feared they would never have a reason to return their materials.
But many local agencies reported "overwhelmingly positive" results from eliminating fines, with return rates remaining consistent or even improving in some cases, Della Terza said. The Chicago Public Library, for example, saw a 240% increase in returned books in the month after implementing its new policy.
"We really did our research to make sure this is something we wanted to do," Della Terza said. "Every library we talked to found this to be incredibly successful. There were no downsides, and customers love it."
The move also supports the Naperville library's push to ensure services are accessible, affordable and inclusive amid the COVID-19 pandemic, he said, pointing to patrons who may be struggling with reduced income, lost jobs or other challenges.
Late fees have historically generated between $200,000 and $300,000 for the library, making up 1% to 2% of its $16 million budget, Della Terza said. But that revenue source has seen a steady decline in recent years, partially due to the increased use of e-books and other digital materials that are automatically returned.
The Naperville library eliminated a few staff positions by attrition and found other cost savings to fill the gap in the budget, he said. The change is not expected to affect residents' tax rates.
"We wanted to make sure this would be sustainable," Della Terza said.