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Sarasota Thursday, Sep. 12, 2019 1 week ago

Sarasota County Libraries does away with late fines

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The Sarasota County Commission approved the initiative with a 5-0 vote.
by: Brynn Mechem Staff Writer

Those harboring overdue library books can breathe a sigh of relief.

The Sarasota County Commission approved the removal of late return fines in all Sarasota County libraries with a 5-0 vote Wednesday.

“You’ll make my life a lot easier because I’m ordered by a lady that I’m living with — my wife — that I have to get to the library in the next day or two because she doesn’t want fines lobbied against her account,” Commissioner Alan Maio. “Now I can relax a little bit.”

The initiative began after a 2018 discussion where library employees identified ways to eliminate barriers to library users. After about a year of study, staff found that out of all library card holders, 22% of adults and 24% of students could not borrow books because of unpaid library fines.

Retiring director of libraries and historical resources Sarabeth Kalajian said she hopes this initiative will encourage people to use library services more.

“What we’ve found lately is that unfortunately, and it sort of breaks our hearts, sometimes we hear parents say to their child: ‘I’m not going to get you a library card. We can’t afford to pay the fines,’” Kalajian said. “So we think that this is going to open up access to a lot of people.”

The new director of libraries and historical resources, Renee Di Pilato, said that from their research, staff found that approximately 376 libraries nationwide are fine-free. 

Fines are collected for materials that are turned in late, around 25 cents a day for books and $1 a day for DVDs and videos, while fees are charged for unreturned items or items that are lost or damaged.

In 2009, the library collected $305,012 in fines and $32,506 in fees, and those numbers are down in 2018 to $152,870 and $35,153, respectively.

On average, employees spend 9.8% of work time on tasks related to fines and fees. Library research estimates peg the total cost associated with staff devoted to cash handling in 2018 at $1.13 million.

“We’re spending $1 million in staff time to collect $100,000,” Commissioner Christian Ziegler said. “I’m sure staff could probably spend their time doing something better and more productive to advance us forward.”

Kalajian said implementation will be simple because most rules — the library’s renewal policy, borrowing policies and fees assessed — will stay the same.

The only change? If an item is not returned by the due date, the borrower will be assessed the full replacement cost of the item and the account will be blocked until the item is returned. 

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