She said some of those changes included longer borrowing periods, a better website and a user-friendly app. She said the changes have caused an overall increase in engagement with their users.
Meeghan Rosen, the assistant director of the Chapel Hill Public Library, said overdue fines do not encourage people to return borrowed materials on time because they are seen as punitive and not as an incentive.
“Within three weeks of going fine-free, Chicago Public Library saw a 240 percent increase in returned materials and an increased number of new users,” Rosen said.
Rosen said users are still held accountable for what they borrow, but through other ways than a fine. She said this is done primarily through billing users for materials that have not been returned after a period of time.
Hongbin Gu, a Town Council member, said she wanted to know why the library could not limit a fine-free program to only the people who needed it. She said she understood the desire to expand access to the library, but felt library fines can help young people learn about responsibility.
“For me, if I’m being irresponsible not returning library books, I want to be fined,” Gu said. “I should be fined, I think.”
Gu said teaching her daughter about due dates and responsibility is part of her parenting.
Town Council member Jessica Anderson said she worried that if the fine-free model did not apply to everyone, a stigma could prevent the overall goal. She said forcing people to self-identify as needing help is going to discourage people.
“We find that with school lunch or other issues,” Anderson said. “Where people don’t want to do something because it is putting them in a different group than everybody else.”
Brown said she agreed with Anderson’s concerns about discouraging people from using the library if the fine-free model did not apply to everyone. Brown said that setting up a procedure where people who are low-income would have to identify themselves would be a real challenge and is out-of-step with their values as a public library.
“We’ve also heard from folks that fines conceptually are a barrier to many people of many incomes,” Brown said.
The Council was in agreement about considering the fine-free library model in the next budget, and Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger said this is something that she hopes would be able to happen this year.
“I really, strongly support this, and I do want it to be part of our bigger budget conversations so that we can be weighing those pros and cons and thinking about the big picture,” Anderson said. “This rises to me as a very important initiative.”
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