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Anne Arundel County Public Library forgives $361,000 in outstanding fines, no more late fees

The Anne Arundel County Public Library forgave $361,425 in outstanding fines Tuesday and announced it would stop charging for late returns, saying the system disproportionately affected people without the means to pay.

“As a public institution, we have a responsibility to make our items available to as many people as possible,” Director Skip Auld said in a media release. “Removing these fines (while still requiring the items to be returned) will allow more people to enjoy our materials for education, enrichment and inspiration.”

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The fine was 30 cents a day for regular library materials and a dollar a day for high-demand items. The maximum fine was $15, or less if the item cost less to replace.

Mizetta Wilson of The Community of Hope, part of the Anne Arundel County Partnership for Children, Youth and Families, said she works out of the library once a week, and she knows when school was in-person before the pandemic began, the building was packed after the closing bell with young people. Those students don’t need to worry about paying a fine to get more books, and now their families won’t need to either.

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“We don’t want anyone to feel like ‘oh, I’m not welcome. I can’t afford this fee. I can’t get another book,’” she said.

As users have shifted to digital library materials, which are automatically returned on the due date, the amount of revenue the library system has gotten from late fees has gone down. In fiscal year 2020, the library collected $112,827, and it expects to collect half that amount in fiscal 2021, which will end this June. Auld said the revenue collected from late fines has gone down over the years.

“Fine revenues were starting to drop. We, still, as of a year ago, were budgeting $225,000 for fines on all of the adult materials. Prior to that, it was another $150,000 for the children and teen materials. We have been seeing it drop, and the timing works out well now to make this decision,” he said.

County Executive Steuart Pittman said he will use his budget powers to supplement the library’s revenue loss, moving money from the general fund. In 2020, the library stopped charging late fees on children’s materials, which also decreased the library’s revenue from late fees.

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Tuesday’s announcement clears the accounts of 28,000 library users who owed money, some of whom may have been unable to rent books because of the outstanding fine. Auld said they hope people who have not been to the library in a while because of a fine will come back to enjoy their services.

“As the library moves into its second century of service to the people of Anne Arundel County, the Board of Trustees is proud to support the elimination of fines for all customers and get back to its foundation of breaking down barriers,” Chair of the Library Board of Trustees William Shorter said in a statement.

Instead of late fees, people will be charged a replacement fee if items aren’t returned or if they are returned damaged. Items borrowed from other library systems through Interlibrary Loan are still subject to late fees. Library accounts can also still be referred to collection agencies, with an additional fee assessed.

Auld said the cost of materials could vary from $10 or $20 to $50 or $100 depending on the book or item.

The library will also start automatically renewing loans for items if no one else is waiting. Items without holds on them will be auto-renewed up to five times. Materials borrowed from other library systems will be automatically renewed twice.

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