Berkeley Public Library to stop charging overdue fines for teen and adult books

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Leonie Leonida/Staff

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Effective July 1, the Berkeley Public Library will no longer charge daily overdue fines for teen and adult books in an effort to increase accessibility to library materials, according to Elliot Warren, acting director of library services.

The Board of Library Trustees, whose members serve as administrators for the Berkeley library, approved Warren’s proposal to end overdue fines at the board’s weekly meeting on June 6, according to a press release. In addition to teen and adult books, overdue fines will no longer be charged for audiobooks, CDs, DVDs or magazines.

Warren said the library currently does not charge late fees for a large percentage of materials and the new policy will be an extension of this. The library has not charged overdue fees for children’s materials for over 25 years and Warren stated that patrons have not been negatively affected. He added that the library has not experienced problems with book returns in the children’s section.

“The return of materials is not determined by late fees — it’s determined by being charged the cost of long-overdue books,” Warren said. “We don’t expect a change in book returns at all.”

Patrons who do not return books or other materials within 30 days will still receive a bill for the cost of the replacement. The new policy only suspends daily overdue fees of 10 to 25 cents, which are capped at $5. Warren said the policy is still “financially responsible” because the fees for excessive lateness will remain.

According to Warren, the library still incentivizes the return of books and other materials by billing patrons for their lost or long-overdue books. He said people love to read and will return their materials for continued access to the library’s selection.

“In order to get access to movies, books and other items, people are expected to return the materials,” Warren said. “Now we’re taking a more positive approach.”

Berkeley High School teacher-librarian Meredith Irby said some students were dissuaded from going to the library for fear of paying fines — she added that she is “excited” about the Berkeley Public Library’s new policy because it will encourage more students to check out books.

In February, the library partnered with Berkeley Unified School District so students could use their student IDs to check out books. Irby said this removed barriers for young people, and the new policy will continue that trajectory.

“It sends a message to young people that the library is there for them,” Irby said.

Warren said the purpose of removing the daily overdue fine is to expand access to library materials. The current overdue fine policy acts as a barrier for library use, especially for lower-income community members, according to the press release.

“Access to reading for all is vital to a healthy and informed community,” Warren said in the press release. “Libraries are not a secondary community service; they are primary. We are prioritizing universal access.”

Contact Amanda Bradford at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @amandabrad_uc.