May 12, 2022 - News

Waukee joins push to end library fines

Illustration of a book with the pages made of money.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Waukee Public Library this week terminated a policy that charged patrons thousands of dollars a year in fines for overdue books and other materials.

  • Borrowing privileges have also been restored for those who owed $5 or more.

Why it matters: Fines create barriers to library access that disproportionately impact low-income residents, Waukee library officials said.

The big picture: Waukee joins a growing national movement in which libraries are questioning whether fine policies truly align with their core mission.

  • The American Library Association passed a resolution in 2019 urging its members to "actively move towards eliminating" fines and to strengthen funding so they're not dependent on them "as a necessary source of revenue."

Details: Waukee collected just over $15,000 in late fines in the fiscal year that ended in June 2019, which accounted for about 2% of its budget.

  • Its board suspended them in March of 2020 as part of its pandemic response.
  • Materials will still have due dates but Waukee patrons will only be charged for damaged or lost materials.

Of note: Internet hotspots which the library loanswill continue to accrue overdue fines in Waukee due to the high expense of replacement and the cost of maintaining annual service contracts, officials said.

Meanwhile, most metro libraries still charge late fines, according to their websites.

  • Ankeny can send accounts that owe $25 or more and 45 days overdue to a collection agency.
  • West Des Moines charges up to $10 a day for late equipment fees.
  • Altoona suspends borrowing privileges once a patron has six or more overdue items or an unpaid balance of $10 or more.

Zoom in: Des Moines Public Library officials project they'll collect about $47,000 in fines and fees during the fiscal year that ends next month, Tim Paluch, a marketing supervisor, told Axios.

  • Des Moines reduced fines for adults and eliminated them on children's and teen materials in 2020. A $1 DVD checkout fee will end in July.
  • Conversations are ongoing about the remaining fines, Paluch said.
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