Two of the largest library systems in the St. Louis region are axing fines for overdue library materials.
St. Louis County Library and St. Louis Public Library join a trend of major metropolitan library districts across the U.S. — including those of Kansas City, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City and Chicago — that have eliminated fines for their users in an effort to increase access and equity within the communities they serve.
“We have seen a lot of studies out there that say fines are not the incentive to get people to bring their books back,” said Kristen Sorth, the director of the St. Louis County Library district. “And so, we still want the books back. You just don’t have to come back and pay a fine.”
The policy change does not mean library users are off the hook.
St. Louis County residents will receive reminders about when items are due and notices if they become overdue. After 45 days, an item will be considered lost, and the patron will have to pay for a replacement. However, if the patron does return the item, charges will be removed.
St. Louis city residents also will be notified when items are due and again if they are overdue. Patrons will not be charged until 42 days after a book or item was due.
Waller McGuire, the chief executive officer of the St. Louis Public Library, said the change is good news for staff.
“That was painful for staff working at the desk to look across and say, ‘I’m sorry, but you can’t use your card,’” McGuire said. “So, now that won’t happen anymore. They’re absolved of that responsibility.”
Last January, the American Library Association passed a resolution encouraging libraries to go fine-free, referring to the fines as “social inequity.” Last December, the Board of Trustees for the two library systems approved removing the fines.
McGuire hopes the change will help residents look at libraries differently.
“We’re not about fines,” McGuire said. “We’re not about rules. We’re about helping people learn. Helping people enjoy themselves. Helping people gain access to information, which is vital to their lives.”
The Urban Libraries Council is tracking the number of libraries that are taking part in the effort through an interactive map.
On Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air, McGuire and Sorth joined host Sarah Fenske for a conversation about the significance of the changes.
That discussion included comments from two listeners, Lily and Gwen, who shared personal stories about the impact this will have on their individual library access and usage.
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The engineer is Aaron Doerr, and production assistance is provided by Charlie McDonald.
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