On July 1, 2019, Tulare County Library turns the page on providing patrons with one less barrier to service by eliminating late fees. Also known as overdue library fines, the Library will no longer charge for items checked out and returned past their due dates at any Tulare County Library location. The Library joins over 50 library systems nationwide, and the first in the San Joaquin Valley, to eliminate late fines, joining Oakland, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, and San Mateo County in California.
The Tulare County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved eliminating late fees at all Tulare County Library branches at the April 30, 2019 meeting. County Librarian Darla Wegener reported that charging late fees is not an incentive for returning books and materials on time but actually creates a barrier for patrons. “That negative experience could lead to the loss of that patron and the loss of their entire family. This is in direct conflict with our mission as a public library to provide information in a positive, customer-centered, free library” said Wegener.
Under the old system, accumulated late fines and fees could block a patron from using free library services such as borrowing materials, using the computers, and searching the online databases. The Library’s resources aid in many areas, including adult literacy, early literacy and school readiness for children, lifelong learning for school and beyond, and job skills and employment resources. Access to these resources changes lives of the Tulare County residents every day.
In 2018, the Library collected around $54,000 in late fees in 2018 with library staff spending on average 8% ($47,000) of their time collecting overdue fees. The numbers are similar to other libraries nationwide that have eliminated late fines. Now these libraries, like Tulare County, will be able to use staff to focus on providing better library services, programs, and community outreach directly to our patrons.
Patrons are still expected to return their books, music, and DVDs on time and without the stress of fines, maybe on time or even early. Three days prior to the due date, patrons will be notified to return items. Overdue notices will continue to be sent by phone or email. A bill for the replacement cost and a processing fee will be sent out at 45 days after the due date.
Though the Library no longer charges late fines, all other fees still apply. Patrons are still responsible for past outstanding fines and fees on their account. The Library plans to provide the Food for Fines program to assist with late fine forgiveness in the fall.