Yankton Library Puts An End To Book Penalties

Library Director Tonya Olson Ferrell believes that ending book fines will make our accessible and welcoming library even more so, and to more people — especially kids.

Late fees have become a thing of the past at the Yankton Community Library.

A decision to end to fines on all books was implemented this week. There will still be due dates on books and reminders for late books, but no late fees. The library is also planning to clear the slate for everyone currently owing fines by year’s end.

"We’re very excited about it," said Library Director Tonya Olson Ferrell. "We are still charging fines on DVDs moving forward, but we are going to clear out all of those current overdue charges right now."

Olson Ferrell has been following this particular library trend with interest for a while.

"The research has shown that fines don’t actually encourage people to bring books back any sooner," she said. "They kind of just bring them back when they’re gonna bring them back."

According the Olson Ferrell, libraries around the country began to realize that not only do fines not generate that much money, they actually prevent kids and lower-income individuals from using the libraries.

"We really wanted to get away from the punitive side of things," she said. "Ten cents a day might not seem like a big thing to you or me, but for somebody, that might be a real barrier to using the library."

When the New York Public Library announced recently that it was clearing the slate on all unpaid late fees, it sparked a new conversation about the pros and cons of late fees in Yankton.

"I think it’s like one-half of 1 percent of our yearly operating budget comes in as fines," Olson Ferrell said. "So this year, we’ve collected $2,000 in fines and I think our budget is like $700,000. It’s not a big money maker for us. It’s just something that libraries have always done. So we thought, why are we doing this if the research is showing that it doesn’t actually make people bring things back on time and we don’t need the money from it? Why punish people who [fees] might be a problem for?"

Initially, the thought was to stop fining kids for late books, because they have so little control over when they can actually make it to the library. But Kids aren’t the only ones who have to worry about unreliable transportation. The conversation evolved from there.

"I talked to the city manager about it," Olson Ferrell said, "and we brought it to our library board. People are like — ‘wait, you have to charge fines on library books’ … but once we got over the initial shock of it and we talked about the research that’s backing it up — and there are lots of places that are moving towards this — the board was great and they were totally on board with it and they were happy to see how it goes."

Olson Ferrell is grateful for the opportunity to try this relatively new idea here in Yankton. "We are really excited that we have a progressive thinking board and city and that they were willing to try this out and see if it works, and I am confident that it will," she said.

She does acknowledge that libraries are generally not well funded across the nation and there are many that are not lucky enough to have a good budget.

"I think we have a very good collections budget where we can buy a lot of new things and that’s not the case across the country," Olson Ferrell said. "So there are some libraries where this would just not work, but we’re lucky."

She also has a personal motive for wanting to make this change, "It’s something that’s close to my heart. I would like people to see [the library] as a place that is theirs. So encourage everybody, that if they’ve had late fines in the past and that’s a reason why they haven’t come, to give us a try."

Moving forward, the library will operate much as it does now.

"Our due dates for books are three weeks from the date they are checked out," she said. "We encourage texting or emailing, which we can do through our library system, and then there are still people that like phone calls, so if you still like phone calls, you will get a call the day after it is due. I think we call again a week after that for everyone."

Anyone interested in getting text reminders or emails can call the library and have it set up over the phone.

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