Decatur Public Library (DPL) will be fine-free as of June 1, 2018. Library records indicate that this possibility has been considered and debated at least since the mid-1990s, but in early 2017 the idea really took off.
In 2017, DPL engaged the firm Library Strategies to guide the library in the process of developing a strategic plan. The first step was information gathering. The library conducted internal and external surveys (which had a huge response), held two focus groups, and a one-day retreat of various stakeholders. While there were a handful of themes that emerged in this process, one that stood out, across all demographic groups, was that overdue fines were a barrier to library use. Patrons who were more well-to-do, found the fines “annoying” and sometimes chose not to use the library in order to avoid them. Patrons who were of a lower socioeconomic bracket sometimes found themselves completely unable to pay their fines, and were therefore prevented from using the library by library policy.
Library fines accounted for less than 1% of the library’s revenues for the last several years. Administration forecast greater than 1% growth on other revenue lines, making the financial argument to continue fines untenable. Library administration talked with other fine-free libraries about the “how” of being fine-free and the results they had experienced. They all reported increased circulation and no problems with patrons returning materials. In fact, some reported that they had an improved rate of return. DPL will suspend library privileges anytime a patron has overdue materials, until the materials are renewed or returned in good condition. If the items are not returned within 30 days, the patron will be billed for the full cost of the materials. This bill will be waived once materials are returned in good condition, provided the materials have not been replaced.