Overdue library books won’t be costly for St. Louis borrowers anymore.
Directors of the public library systems in St. Louis and St. Louis County announced Tuesday that they are joining a growing number of lenders that have stopped charging late fees. The push to drop fines gained steam last year after the American Library Association officially came out against them, citing concerns that fines create barriers to library materials and services.
“Fines don’t seem to be an incentive for people to bring back material,” said Kristen Sorth, director of the county system. But feeling guilty about fines can keep patrons from using the library, she said.
Since 1964, the city had charged 5 cents a day for overdue books. The county has charged 15 cents for books; and $1 a day for materials such as DVDs, telescopes and Wi-Fi hot spots.
Although the county library system took in about $130,000 last year in fines, that amount is a very small part of its annual $53 million budget, Sorth said.
The city library, which has a $25 million budget, took in even less: about $72,000 in fees.
“Our research says fines are an annoyance for the financially secure and a real obstacle for the financially insecure,” said Waller McGuire, director of the city system. “And they are a real barrier to everybody.”
Patrons would still be required to pay for lost or damaged items to continue borrowing. Under the change, library cards will be frozen if books and movies aren’t returned.
Both library systems say patron usage has trended upward, with the county estimating it checked out a record 16.2 million items last year, Sorth said. Some of the growth is due to the relatively recent policy of automatic renewal of materials. The automatic renewals also had already cut the amount of fees libraries were collecting.
In the city, all past overdue fines will be forgiven. In the county, patrons will need to pay off 2019 fines.