News

Mountain View Library eliminates late fees

No more 'ineffective' fines, but old library debt won't get erased

Late fines are now a thing of the past at the Mountain View Library. Starting this month, the city's public library is eliminating fees on all overdue items in its collection, including books, movies and music.

The new policy comes as part of a larger trend by libraries slashing late fees across the U.S. In the Bay Area, the counties of Alameda, San Mateo and Contra Costa have each taken steps to get rid of library late fees in recent months. San Francisco is currently considering a similar move while San Jose has already eliminated late fees on its children's materials.

The reason behind this change is an evolving perception among librarians, said Tracy Gray, Mountain View's library services director. Traditionally, late fees were seen as a necessary incentive to force borrowers to return item. But recently, more librarians have come to regard the fines as a deterrent that pushes away patrons, especially those who can least afford to pay them.

"This goes to the philosophical side of the library profession," Gray said. "We want books to get in the hands of people, but if patrons have blocked accounts, then they don't have the ability to access these books."

In total, the city has about $56,000 in unpaid fines, which has caused a small number of suspended library cards. About 2% of card-holders have blocked accounts, meaning they owe $25 or more in late fees.

This pales in comparison to San Jose's library system, which revealed in 2016 that it was sending out debt collectors to rein in more than $6.8 million in late fees. About four out of every 10 library card holders in San Jose reportedly had some kind late fees on their account. Since then, the South Bay city has enacted a series of fee reductions, but the total debt among its patrons still stands at $2.7 million.

Some library experts now believe that the longstanding logic behind late fees may be flawed. A 2014 analysis by the Colorado state library system couldn't find any solid evidence that late fines actually improve return rates. People generally return books and other materials at comparable rates regardless of whether they risk a penalty. What is more clear about late fees, according to the Colorado study, is they end up reducing public usage of a library, especially among low-income households.

An early test case for the idea of eliminating library late fees was conducted by the city of Vernon Hills, Illinois. The Midwest city lost out on about $45,000 it would normally collect in overdue fines. But that loss was negligible when library directors factored in the staff time and resources that they saved by getting rid of the fines, said Catherine Savage, a Vernon Area Public Library spokeswoman. The overall experience has been great, she said.

"The world continued to turn on its axis minus the late fees that we thought we needed," she said. "This has been gaining momentum across the country and that's really encouraging because it does provide the widest possible access to the library."

In Mountain View, library officials have been considering an end to late fees for nearly a year, Gray said. The idea had a great reception among librarians, many of whom consider collecting overdue fines to be the worst part of the job. In her own experience, Gray remembers having to deal with parents who were in tears because they couldn't afford the $20 in late fees on their children's books.

Gray pointed out that the idea also makes sense for Mountain View because a large portion of the city's collection is now digitized. Volumes like e-books are automatically returned once the time is up, making late fees irrelevant.

But if there are no fines, how can a library enforce good behavior? Couldn't a patron just borrow 100 books and never return them, or sell them for easy money?

While late fees are going away, Gray pointed out that the Mountain View Library will still be charging anyone who loses an item or doesn't return it. If an item isn't returned in two weeks, patrons will get a bill for the full cost to replace it.

Another important caveat is that old late fees will remain in place. Library patrons who have outstanding debt on their accounts will still be expected to pay them off, Gray said.

"We want people not to be stressed out about returning their items," she said. "But the policy isn't retroactive."

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Comments

16 people like this
Posted by MV Resident
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jul 10, 2019 at 1:04 pm

That’s funny. Just yesterday I was there looking up books on Utopia. They were all checked out. With Due date: Never.


25 people like this
Posted by Boomer
a resident of Gemello
on Jul 10, 2019 at 2:02 pm

Thank you, MV Resident, for the great Boomer wisdom. Truly the smartest generation. Did you post it on your Facebook wall too?


5 people like this
Posted by Eric Goldman
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Jul 10, 2019 at 2:08 pm

The city is sending mixed messages. It's getting rid of late fees, but "If an item isn't returned in two weeks, patrons will get a bill for the full cost to replace it." Sounds like a late fee...?


11 people like this
Posted by MV Book Store
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jul 10, 2019 at 2:31 pm

It's not a late fee, its a two week free trial. If not returned after 2 weeks you've bought it. You're not checking it out, you're trying it for free prior to buying in full with the option to return it prior to two weeks at no charge.


1 person likes this
Posted by Library user
a resident of Cuernavaca
on Jul 10, 2019 at 2:51 pm

Lots of libraries are going this way. Santa Clara County doesn't charge late fines on children's materials and for senior citizens.

Web Link


7 people like this
Posted by Interesting
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jul 10, 2019 at 4:58 pm

What they say: “they end up reducing public usage of a library, especially among low-income households.”

What they really mean: “collecting overdue fines to be the worst part of the job.”

What they’re really doing: “If an item isn't returned in two weeks, patrons will get a bill for the full cost to replace it.”

So.. they want to eliminate the worst part of their job, virtue signal about it being about the less fortunate, and then they’re going to slap a huge replacement bill (i.e. fine) anyway.


15 people like this
Posted by Boomer
a resident of Gemello
on Jul 10, 2019 at 5:08 pm

There's that lovable Boomer slang: "virtue-signal," when a sociopath doesn't have an argument but wants to pretend everyone else cares as little about others as they do. Show those librarians you're on to their games!


7 people like this
Posted by Kjell
a resident of Castro City
on Jul 10, 2019 at 9:43 pm

I think this is a great move. My first job was working at a library - I saw the fines and fees not working back then. With the goal being to encourage patronage and learning, let people have access to our library's resources.


11 people like this
Posted by corrections
a resident of Willowgate
on Jul 10, 2019 at 9:48 pm

corrections is a registered user.

The new policy is here: Web Link

They remove the replacement fee if the item is returned later, which has been the case for as long as I can remember, so they are not replacing one fee with another as earlier commenters have suggested.


3 people like this
Posted by PAneighbor
a resident of another community
on Jul 11, 2019 at 8:39 am

I feel a suggested late fee may be a more effective option? Some residents may voluntarily be willing to pay it leading to some accumulation in funds for future use, those who can't afford it are not burdened and the cost of debt collecting goes away?


2 people like this
Posted by Jeremy Hoffman
a resident of Rengstorff Park
on Jul 11, 2019 at 9:09 am

Jeremy Hoffman is a registered user.

We fund our public library so that people will use it. A well-read public benefits us all. And the library is an especially valuable resource for families who otherwise couldn't afford to access thousands of books and other media.

Now we learn that the threat of late fees actually deters some members of the public from using the library. People not using the library we pay for -- that's bad! We're not getting the full value of our investment in the library!

So this move makes perfect sense.


Like this comment
Posted by @corrections
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jul 11, 2019 at 1:20 pm

The $10 processing fee per late item is not rescinded. It’s still a fine. Still hurts low income people more than high income people.


5 people like this
Posted by @PAneighbor
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jul 11, 2019 at 1:24 pm

The kind of person who would pay a voluntary late fee is the kind of person who returns items on time.

But I like the idea in general. Let’s try it for parking tickets.


4 people like this
Posted by James
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jul 11, 2019 at 4:46 pm

There seems to be a lot of confusion in the comments. Here are the key points from the policy: Web Link

You are billed for replacement cost two weeks after the due date (not two weeks after the checkout date). It is completely waived if you just return the item (no matter how late).

I really don't think they have sinister intentions with this policy ...


5 people like this
Posted by Library Patron
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jul 13, 2019 at 7:18 am

A few days grace period would be nice.

Why not return the item on time? It’s especially a problem with high demand books & DVDs. Let’s be considerate of others.


4 people like this
Posted by Another library patron
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jul 13, 2019 at 10:57 am

Thank you, Library Patron, for considering the other users of these services.

The article mentions one facet of a late-fee situation ("Gray remembers having to deal with parents in tears because they couldn't afford $20 in late fees on their children's books"), but not its other dimensions. Like individual responsibility (the library didn't cause those books to be late), or the other families who couldn't get the books when they were perpetually checked out.


1 person likes this
Posted by It’s simple!
a resident of another community
on Jul 13, 2019 at 5:50 pm

It’s simple: be responsible. Enjoy our wonderful public libraries, check out items and return them. Not that hard. Teach your children to be responsible citizens, too. We all live in this region together.

Should we eliminate fines if one is seen littering (throwing trash from a vehicle on the highway!?)
This has nothing to do with being “rich” or “poor.” Most of us are in the middle, anyway.

Participate in community benefits and services as a responsible participant.
- a librarian


Like this comment
Posted by Reader
a resident of another community
on Jul 15, 2019 at 3:18 pm

Libraries are very antiquated institutions. I yearn for the day that there are no more libraries and people do their reading, at home, on the internet, like God intended it to be.


Like this comment
Posted by Reader
a resident of another community
on Jul 15, 2019 at 3:24 pm

People are going to find that they hate this new policy if they are getting charged for full replacement cost of the item after two weeks. That's worse than a late fee! Two weeks is not a lot of time.


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