Woodburn Public Library to waive fines on children's and youth materials, beginning April 1

WOODBURN INDEPENDENT: JUSTIN MUCH - Woodburn Public Library will pilot a fines-free program for youth materials, in part to encourage young people to use the facility. A pilot project that begins on April Fools Day will waive fines and overdue charges for kids in Woodburn.

Library Manager John Hunter wasn't fooling when he proposed to the Woodburn City Council a new program that's gaining traction in other areas of the country, whereby overdue charges on child and teen collections would be relinquished, in part to incentivize more frequent usage of the library by youths.

"A significant mission of the Library is to facilitate the development of early literacy skills of children, to teach parents of young children the same, and to offer a compelling collection of books that encourage lifelong reading," Hunter's report began. "A growing body of research indicates that the threat of accumulating fines for overdue materials is keeping low-income families away from libraries or from borrowing items."

Hunter explained to the council that fines decrease the number of items that are borrowed, and when they've accrued, they can also become a deterrent to library use overall. That deterrent is strong enough to economically challenged families that the American Library Service strongly advocates "promoting the removal of all barriers to library and information services, particularly fees and overdue charges."COURTESY OF JOHN HUNTER - Woodburn Public Library Manager John Hunter.

The report noted that revenue generated through fines has been decreasing, in part due to an increased percentage of electronic materials being checked out. Electronic materials account for 12 percent of all items checked out, and they never become overdue or damaged.

A graph with the report presented to the council indicated that revenue from fines has been consistently decreasing over much of the past decade, from $17,401.81 in 2013 to $11,819.61 in 2018; revenue generated from fines accounted for only 1.35-percent of library expenses in the latter year, and less than 2 percent each year since 2013.

"The anticipated decrease in library revenues should be substantially less than $1,000 per month (in 2019)," the report noted. Moreover, after fines accrue to certain extent, it increases the likelihood that the patron may stay away from the library and not return the item.

"We're not talking about a lot of money," Hunter said, adding that "It's not really money if you can't collect it."

The current library fine is $.25-per-day for all overdue library materials. It caps at $5 per item.

Hunter said in the region Multnomah and Washington counties have both taken on the fine-free for younger readers system, as have a number of city libraries, including Los Angeles, San Diego, Salt Lake City, Baltimore, St. Paul, Minn., and Nashville, Tenn.

Within the Chemeketa Cooperative Regional Library Service (CCRLS), Salem has considered it.

"One of the things that got me thinking about this seriously is my children's librarian, Mike Jansen, he is very proactive with community outreach, and moms were bringing that up with him," Hunter said. "And then Salem Public Library, which is sort of the 800 pound gorilla in CCRLS, of which we are a part (announced it was) going fines free…Ironically, but there was a hiccup and their process slowed down They are inching in that direction, so we may have a chance to beat them to it."

The council gave the fines-free a nod as a one-year trial or pilot project, which is set to go in effect April 1. Charges for lost items will remain intact.

Mayor Eric Swenson and Councilor Mary Beth Cornwell both expressed an empathy with library patrons who either accumulate fines or lose items.

"I think that most people who borrow things want to give them back; people aren't like I'm going to go borrow these things then keep them," Swenson said. "And I would say particularly people who go to the library are not (inclined to keep items). And I think once people find them (misplaced items), whether it's a month later or six months later, they will bring it back."

Hunter was delighted with both the council's decision and Woodburn's opportunity to be a regional pioneer with the pilot.

"I'm really excited for this opportunity to expand library access and to welcome back folks who may have been avoiding using the library because of their kids' overdue fines." Hunter said. "Because folks who live in Woodburn generally face greater economic challenges than their neighbors in the whole of Marion County, I'm thrilled that we are the first public library in the county to no longer charge overdue fines on juvenile materials."

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