[Libs-Or] April 2019 Tuesday Topic: Eliminating Fines to Provide Better Access

Lori Moore lorim at multcolib.org
Tue Apr 23 09:40:25 PDT 2019


Oregon Library Association Intellectual Freedom Committee

Tuesday Topic, April 2019


Welcome to Tuesday Topics, a monthly series covering topics with
intellectual freedom implications for libraries of all types. Each message
is prepared by a member of OLA's Intellectual Freedom Committee or a guest
writer. Questions can be directed to the author of the topic or to the IFC
committee <https://www.olaweb.org/contact-ifc>.



Eliminating Library Fines to Provide Better Access to Information and
Services

In January 2019, the American Library Association released a Resolution on
Monetary Library Fines as a Form of Social Inequity
<http://www.ala.org/aboutala/sites/ala.org.aboutala/files/content/governance/council/council_documents/2019_ms_council_docs/ALA%20CD%2038%20RESOLUTION%20ON%20MONETARY%20LIBRARY%20FINES%20AS%20A%20FORM%20OF%20SOCIAL%20JUSTICE%20Revised%201_27_0.pdf>.
It lays out specific ways fines are a barrier to accessing information and
using libraries, both public and academic. The resolution ultimately urges
libraries to eliminate monetary fines and strengthen funding so that they
are not dependent on fines for their budgets.

Oregon Libraries and Fines

Several libraries in Oregon have already taken steps to eliminate fines in
some form. Beaverton City Library, Corvallis-Benton County and Multnomah
County Library are among those that have eliminated fines for children’s
materials. Deschutes Public Library, Jackson County Library Services and
Newport Public Library are a few that have gone fine free for all
materials. To learn more about the various fee systems of libraries in
Oregon, the State Library provides library statistics
<https://www.oregon.gov/Library/libraries/Pages/Statistics.aspx> including
fines and fees. This map
<https://endlibraryfines.info/fine-free-library-map/> has information about
libraries worldwide but may be lacking in complete accuracy.

Concerns

Motivation to return, budget, and teaching civic responsibility come up
over and over again in articles and conversations on this topic. However, this
report from the Colorado State Library
<https://www.cde.state.co.us/cdelib/removingbarrierstoaccess> cites several
studies that indicate fines do not seem to be a motivating factor for
returning or not returning items. In terms of budget issues, many libraries
are already seeing decreases in their fine generated income due to the
increasing use of e-materials.* Additionally, some libraries may find that
the cost of processing fine payments might outweigh the fine income.** To
the topic of teaching responsibility, libraries will need to find ways to
adequately communicate to their constituents the importance of access over
these perceived lessons.

Access, Not Barriers

As the ALA resolution suggests, fines impact people who are less likely to
be able to pay them, thereby creating barriers for those most in need of
library services. The Salt Lake City Library
<https://archive.sltrib.com/article.php?id=5327069&itype=CMSID> and San
Francisco Public Library
<http://www.sfexaminer.com/sf-eliminate-fines-overdue-library-books/> have
both done studies that indicate that “an outsize portion of library cards
blocked for financial reasons...came at the low end of the socioeconomic
scale” and that fines “disproportionately affect low-income communities,
African American communities, and communities without college degrees.”

It seems clear that it is time for libraries to think about why they charge
fines, how communities are affected, and how fines impact access to
information. Even with small steps like eliminating fines for children,
libraries can begin steps to limit barriers and provide better access to
information for all. Certainly, there are budgetary, political and public
opinion hurdles to navigate and overcome, but in the long run, eliminating
barriers means better access to information and better libraries for our
communities.

*Lori Moore *OLA Intellectual Freedom Committee Member Regional Librarian,
Multnomah County Library


*”Doing Fine(S)?” Library Journal, vol. 142, no. 6, Apr. 2017, pp. 40-44
**The End of Fines.” Library Journal, vol. 143, no. 15, Sept. 2018, pp.
21-23
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