Group pushes Hennepin County Library system to drop fines

Updated: July 17, 2019 06:51 PM

Hennepin County Library had 5.5 million visits in 2018. The access resulted in over 18 million checkouts of library materials. Turns out, the library system collected $600,000 in fines and fees in 2018 alone.

Now, there's a push to eliminate library fines and fees on overdue books and other material in Hennepin County. Sandy Berman said the library system is dependent upon the incoming revenue.

Berman is a retired librarian who started the "Committee for the Abolition of Library Fines." He said he feels locking out a child from libraries due to an overdue book is contradictory to the mission of libraries.

"Why invite this kind of unhappiness, unpleasantness and bad P.R., so it can just be eliminated," he said.

Abolishing fines and fees for overdure library material appears to be a local and national trend. In January of this year, Saint Paul Public Libraries joined cities like Denver, San Diego and Nashville to no longer charge fines on late items.

Saint Paul officially went fine free on January 1 of this year. In the first six months of 2019, libraries are seeing positive results.

"It supports our library services, staffing everything we provide for our public," said Janet Mills, the interim Hennepin County Library Director.

Mills said if you have a balance of your account that's below $10, you still have full borrowing privileges. If your balance is over $10, then it will limit your access, but still won't shut you out of the system completely.

She said cutting fines would need approval from the county's board.

"If we were to eliminate fines, then we would have to look at either other sources of revenue to fill in that gap or our budget would go without that amount of money," she said.

Berman said, in his time as a librarian, fines were used to ensure that people return borrowed books.

"Fines don't do what they're supposed to do or what people think they're supposed to do, then why charge them anyway?" he said.

To help library users to not rack up fines, they started an automatic renewal system. Material can be renewed up to three times before fines are applied. Also, Hennepin County doesn't charge for replacement library cards.

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Todd Wilson

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