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Woodburn Public Library stands to waive overdue fines, a practice recommended by American Library Association

PMG PHOTO: JUSTIN MUCH - Woodburn Public Library encourages increased patronage.Most fines for overdue materials will soon be eliminated at Woodburn Public Library.

Earlier this year the Woodburn Library Board passed a motion to recommend eliminating library fines, and on Monday, Feb. 24 a split Woodburn City Council concurred.

The council voted 3-2 – Robert Carney and Eric Morris were in opposition – to adopt the board's recommendation and nix fines for overdue materials. The library will continue to charge fines for damaged and/or lost materials.PMG PHOTO: JUSTIN MUCH - Woodburn Public Library encourages increased patronage.

The move is consistent with the American Library Association's current policy, which is geared toward "promoting the removal of all barriers to library and information services, particularly fees and overdue charges" according to a report delivered to the city council by Woodburn Library Director John Hunter.

Hunter's report also cited Census statistics that show 23.7% of Woodburn's population lives below the poverty line, further emphasizing the need to remove obstacles or deterrents to library use by economically challenged residents and families.

"A lot of research indicates that overdue fines in particular have become an impediment for poorer families to access library services," Hunter said. "Actually, the fear of accruing fines may prevent parents from even wanting their kids to borrow materials."

The move has its roots in a pilot program established last year in which fines were eliminated for youth and young-adult materials. Hunter reported that the pilot has been successful and well received by patrons, and it has not affected the library budget. Fines generally account for less that 2% of the library revenue, and the library has been consistently operating under budget over the past decade.

Moreover, the potential negative ramifications that waiving fines may engender have not surfaced.

"We haven't seen an increase in lost materials. We haven't seen an increase in hold times," Hunter said. "So from this qualitative perspective, looking at it everything seems to be positive."

Hunter did note that one concomitant move made by the overall CCRLS system, automatic renewals for materials that do not have holds on them, may also have contributed to the positive results. Since that came into effect last April, Woodburn library's renewals have doubled.

The director said that while patronage has been decent, the Woodburn Public Library is under utilized as a resource for a community of its size. The aim is to incentivize library usage.

Councilor Eric Morris was dubious on the grounds that the bit of revenue that is generated through fines is not offset, and that patrons could be prodigally inclined without the consequence of a fine.

"It sounds really warm and fuzzy," Morris said. "If people are borrowing something from the city…and they are not bringing it back, there should be consequences."

Hunter pointed out that patrons are billed for items that are not returned. He also stressed that the overarching intention, increasing library usage, is a positive force for a community.

"The library is a warm, fuzzy institution," Hunter said. "We're supposed to be doing good in the community while also facilitating youth literacy, especially language acquisition, cultural inclusion, providing folks access to materials that, perhaps, they couldn't otherwise afford, and encouraging civic engagement."

City Administrator Scott Derickson described libraries as peer policy-provided general-fund services program, not a proprietary one. It is similar to the police department.

"When the police show up to your house, you don't get a bill; when we go into the library, you don't get a bill, because of the public benefit that it provides for the community," Derickson said.


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