GREAT FALLS — At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Great Falls Public Library stopped charging late fees, and now the library is simply eliminating daily late fees for overdue items, even after the pandemic is over.
People are still financially responsible for lost or damaged items, and could lose borrowing privileges if items go unreturned.
Library director Susie McIntyre says they began moving toward the policy last year, and in May the board voted to officially change it. They say late fines act as a financial barrier to library access.
The Great Falls library typically takes in $10,000 in late fees each year, which is about 0.07 percent of its annual budget. However, the library has committed to making up the revenue through fund raising. “We are definitely not an early adopter of this. There are actually over 30 Montana libraries who did this before we did,” said library director Susie McIntyre. "The main reason why we wanted to do this is because our mission is to connect people to the information and resources that they need. And what we found was that late fines were a barrier to people when we were doing outreach."
For information about your account, call the library at 406-453-0349.
Here is the full news release from the Great Falls Public Library:
At their meeting on May 26th, the Library Board of Trustees voted unanimously to forgive all outstanding late fines and eliminate the assessing of late charges on library accounts.While the vote was made in late May, the changes to the libraries software and accounting systems required time to be fully enacted. An anonymous donation of $85,000 was made to the Great Falls Public Library Foundation and designated for capital improvements on the condition that the library proceed with Fine Free plans as outlined in the library's 2019-2022 strategic plan (available on the library's website here. [r20.rs6.net]).
Great Falls Public Library has not been assessing late fines since the beginning of the Covid-19 outbreak last winter, but late fines left in the system from previous years lingered, preventing some people from accessing library materials and services.
The library conducted community surveys as part of the development of their strategic plan, and found that as many as half of the respondents who did not currently use the library had library cards, but were blocked from access due to outstanding fines.
Late fine payments account for roughly .07% of the library's budget, and are not a significant source of funding. The library is hopeful that folks who are happy about the library's efforts to serve the community will choose to support the library with donations to help make up for the lost revenue. Other libraries that have enacted fine free policies have seen an increase in returned items, meaning that their budget is not as impacted by having to purchase replacement materials.
The Library plans to continue to host the Fine Free Fun Run introduced last summer. Last year's event raised over $3,000 and paid off the fines of over 300 cardholders, most of whom were 6 years old and younger. The 2nd Annual Fine Free Fun Run was scheduled for June of this year, but has been postponed due to the current health crisis. Future Fine Free Fun Runs will help offset the loss of income from fines.
The Great Falls Public Library has a policy of working with patrons to create payment plans for fines and fees. To continue to check out library materials, a patron must have a payment plan in place, or owe less than $5.00. However, patrons may not be aware of these options, and do not return to the library, making it impossible for library staff to communicate those options. This information is on the F.A.Q page of the library's website here. [r20.rs6.net]
Patrons who have been blocked from using their library card due to late fines are encouraged to return to the library to update their card or get a replacement. Replacement cards themselves cost $1, however, patrons may use a photo id to verify their account information in order to check out materials.
Lost or damaged items still carry fees. Payment plans on lost and damaged items are available for as little as $5 per month. Patrons on payment plans are able to continue to check out library materials as long as they meet their monthly minimum.