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Library fines removed for younger readers

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    The Jones County Public Library’s open house, celebrating its renovation, attracted children, families and new readers. FILE PHOTO

The idea of removing fines from children’s library books may seem a small issue, but it can make a big difference in the lives of the youngsters who previously have not had access to the library’s resources.

The Middle Georgia Regional Library System issued a press release July 1 announcing the decision to remove fines from children’s and young adult print materials. The new policy was effective as of July 1.

The Jones County Public Library is a member of the MGRL System.

The release stated that the MGRL Board of Trustees approved the fine removal earlier this year as a solution to reduce barriers and increase equity for library users. The change does not apply to adult materials, and patrons will remain responsible for the cost of lost of damaged items. Also, all items checked out will still have a due date.

Sherri Goss, chairman of the MGRL Board of Trustees, said board members understand that for some patrons, paying a fine can be daunting and a damper for the library experience.

“Removing fines for children and young adult materials helps make the library’s resources more accessible, support literacy efforts for our community and remove the unnecessary stress, fear, or apprehension of library use,” she said.

The issue was discussed by MGRL Director Jennifer Lautzenheiser during a 2020 meeting of the Jones County Library Board of Trustees. The director was asked by Chairman Frank Duke to share information brought up at the governing board meeting concerning fines for late library books.

At that time Lautzenheiser explained that there was a ‘fine free’ movement because studies have shown that late fees do not modify behavior.

“They have found the books come back quicker when it is fine free,” she said.

The director said the computer system has built in challenges, but going fine free creates greater retention of library cardholders. She said the state average is 40 percent of people are cardholders.

“But because of fines, about a third of them cannot use their cards,” she said.

Lautzenheiser said that creates concerns of literacy levels. Another challenge is that children depend on an adult to bring them to the library.

The downside of going fine free, however, was that some libraries depend on fines to fund staff hours.

Fines are penalties for the late return of materials in contrast to fees that are the costs for damaged, lost or long overdue items. The release states that all fees will remain on patron accounts but fines for children’s and young adult print material will be removed.

The decision to remove the fines adds MGRL to a number of other library systems across the country removing fines.

Lautzenheiser was also quoted in the release.

“We did not want 20 cents a day to keep families from using their resources. This change opens additional doors for our users to utilize their local libraries and removes an economic boundary for lower-income patrons,” she said. “We realize that the majority of users with a balance are children younger than 18, and we want them to be forever library supporters.”

It is hoped that the removal of fines will encourage previous users to come back and attract new users to experience what the library has to offer.

The Middle Georgia Library System serves six counties across Central Georgia with the mission of connecting all people to the information necessary to improve their lives through the excellent services and materials available in their local libraries.

The MGRL press release was authored by its marketing coordinator Sylvia O’Bear. For more information about the MGRL system, she can be reached by phone 478-744-0852 or by email obears@bibblib.org.

The Jones County Public Library is located at 146 Railroad Street in Gray. For more information about the Jones County Library call 478-986-6626 or visit its Facebook page, Jones County Public Library, for continuing updates on activities.