Booneville library eliminates late fees

Alex Gladden
Fort Smith Times Record
Booneville, AR Public Library as seen Wednesday, Jan. 27.

The Booneville Public Library has ended its policy of collecting fees from people who turn in items late. 

“We're just getting rid of it," said Brittany Downs, the library's branch manager. 

Downs said demanding late fees discouraged people from using the library. 

“If you have late items you’re hesitant to come into the library," Downs said. 

Fines were previously $1 a day for late DVDs and 25 cents a day for late books. 

“We’re not trying to make profit, make gain, off our patrons at all," Downs said. 

People who use the library will still have to pay for items that are lost or damaged. Items become marked as lost three weeks after the return date. The librarians make repeated attempts to reach the people who've yet to return their items. 

Unless the item is new, people who lose or damage items generally pay a lot less for them than the library originally bought them for, Downs said. 

Since implementing the new policy banning late fees a month and a half ago, people have continued to return their items on time. 

“That was just an unnecessary system that we had," Downs said about requiring late fees. 

Requiring people to pay late fees put an unnecessary financial burden on Booneville residents, Downs said. 

“We wanted to keep our patrons coming back and didn’t want to scare them off by saying 'oh you owe money'” Downs said. 

The Booneville library's move to stop charging late fees follows a national trend calling for libraries to do so. 

 In 2019, the American Library Association passed a resolution encouraging librarians to reexamine their policies on late fees and if possible to eliminate them. 

The association's policy “asserts that the charging of fees and levies for information services, including those services utilizing the latest information technology, is discriminatory in publicly supported institutions providing library and information services." 

Booneville joins cities, including Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Chicago, Denver and San Diego, that have put an end to late fees, according to a New York Times article.

After stopping late fees, the Chicago library saw a 240% increase in return of materials within three weeks of implementing its fine-free policy, according to an NPR article. 

In San Diego, officials determined that it would be saving money if its librarians stopped tracking down patrons to recover books. The city had spent nearly $1 million to collect $675,000 in library fees each year, according to an NPR article. 

Libraries have also found that late fees disproportionately deter low-income people from using the library, according to an NPR article. 

Without the fear of fines, Downs said she thinks people will be more likely to come into the Booneville library. 

“By knowing that we’re fine free, I guess it’s kind of a feeling of ease," Downs said. 

Downs said she is always looking for more ways that the library can help the community. Eliminating late fees was one of the ways she saw to benefit Booneville. 

“That’s just what we do," Downs said.