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Howard County Library System removes overdue fine policy

Katherine Spiegel, of Ellicott City, retrieves her bag of materials at the Miller Branch as the Howard County Library System began its contactless pickup of library materials on June 29. Starting Aug. 1, the library system will no longer fine residents for not returning books on time.
Katherine Spiegel, of Ellicott City, retrieves her bag of materials at the Miller Branch as the Howard County Library System began its contactless pickup of library materials on June 29. Starting Aug. 1, the library system will no longer fine residents for not returning books on time. (Brian Krista/Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Beginning Saturday, the Howard County Library System will no longer fine residents for not returning materials on time.

The new overdue fine policy, which was approved by the library system’s board of trustees in June, will go into effect Aug. 1, according to a library news release. Overdue fines will not be charged for any library materials, except items in the DIY and art education collections.

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Current fines for the outstanding materials — excluding DIY and art education materials — will be removed Saturday.

“Our community is stronger and healthier when everyone has access to the materials they need to pursue their educational, career, family and life goals,” Tonya Aikens, the library system’s president and CEO, said in a statement. “Going fine free is aligned with our commitment to equity and positions us to more fully live our mission of providing high quality public education for all Howard County residents.”

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Items borrowed from Howard County’s six branches will still have due dates, and residents will receive notices when their items are due. Any lost or damaged items will still have fines attached.

The DIY and art education materials are still subject to fines if returned late because those collections are smaller than others in the library system. The DIY collection — based at the Elkridge Branch — includes tools, outdoor equipment, baking and crafting supplies, and more. The art education collection — based at the Central Branch — allows library card holders to borrow artwork in a variety of styles and sizes.

After its branches closed in mid-March due the coronavirus pandemic, the library system waived fines and urged patrons to not return books to overflowing dropoff locations. Aikens said in May she didn’t expect the library system to reinstate fines when the facilities opened back up. While the six branches aren’t fully open, they are open for online/phone orders and contactless pickup.

“We’re not looking to reinstate fines even when we open our facilities because we’ll still be in this economic recession caused by the pandemic,” Aikens said in May. “We don’t want to place any barriers on our customers that would limit their ability to access our resources and recover themselves.”

Before the pandemic, the library system charged 20 cents per day for most overdue materials and $1 per day for DVDs. Most items had a maximum fine of $6 and $10 per DVD.

Fines account for about 2% of the library system’s budget, according to the release. In late May, the County Council approved its fiscal year 2021 budget with a 2% increase to the library system’s budget, which didn’t cover the projected loss in revenue due to the pandemic. The library system asked for a 5% budget increase, and the 2% increase of about $429,000, didn’t cover the $450,000 in projected lost revenue. Aikens said in May the lost revenue was related to the waiving of book return fines and not being able to provide passport services when libraries were closed.

To save money, the library system implemented one-week furloughs of 243 library system staff members this summer, which saved approximately $250,000.

In the Central Maryland area, Baltimore’s Enoch Pratt Free Library became the first major urban library system on the East Coast to eliminate fines on overdue books and other materials in 2018. The Anne Arundel County Public Library system eliminated overdue fines for children’s and teen materials earlier this year.

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