Recently a question about late fees directed to a staff person at the Woodstock branch elicited the response that the library is now "fine free". While some Multnomah County Library patrons in Southeast Portland may already know about this new policy, many do not â€“ or they don't know the details.
The fact of the matter seems to be that last July first, the library announced that it was waiving fines for overdue books and other materials during the pandemic â€“ and beyond: "Multnomah County Library will permanently stop charging late fines on all library materials, clear all existing fines, and restore access to accounts blocked because of fines in excess of $50, effective immediately. [But] patrons will continue to be billed for unreturned materials."Â
The policy change reflects a growing nationwide emphasis on removing barriers to people to use public libraries. Patrons will not feel the need to avoid library usage because of late fines, or fear of having a conversation about debt.
Director of Libraries Vailey Oehlke told THE BEE, "We have watched closely as a growing body of research has shown that late fines don't work â€“ that a large percentage [of the fines] can never be collected, and that ending the practice doesn't increase the number of late returns. This change will help Multnomah County Library truly serve its community in a free and equal way."Â
Several cities in the country had already adopted a no-fine policy even before the pandemic. Saint Paul, Minnesota, stopped charging fines for overdue books and other items back in 2018. Currently, nearby cities such as Vancouver and Seattle have also dropped any late fees.
We discovered that the New York City Public Library system has gone the same route. Tony Marx, president of that system says, "Almost all the books come back anyway, because people â€“ if they are treated with respect and trust â€“ respond in kind," he said, in October of this year.
As for the Multnomah County Library system, their July 2020 statement continued, "Library materials will still have due dates, and patrons are encouraged to return their library materials within the checkout period. Items will automatically renew if there are no 'holds' on the item. For items that are not automatically renewed, if materials are not returned 49 days after the due date, patrons will be charged replacement costs. Those fees are cleared, if the items are returned."Â
Marty Leisure, who has worked in the Multnomah County Library system for 35 years, and is in his tenth year at the Woodstock branch, says he is in favor of the no-fine policy. "It's a great library-friendly approach. The goal is to have people read and enjoy books. And, especially for low-income people [who may owe fines they can't pay], the policy encourages them to come back and use the library."
Martha Flotten, a new Regional Manager for Multnomah County Library adds, "There is also [a new policy of] no paying for printing [copying] in our libraries. Especially with the pandemic, we are doing whatever we can to help people. And much of the printing [done in libraries] is for shipping labels, or resumes."
If you'd like even more information about this new Multnomah County Library policy, Call the library at 503/988-5123, or go online â€“ www.multcolib.org
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