⚫ After a year of discussion, a library system is scrapping overdue fines

⚫ It's expected the move will result in increased usership and circulation

⚫ There's still a charge for lost or unreturned items

Fifteen libraries in New Jersey are going fine-free on July 1.

The move is meant to promote equity and remove a barrier for low-income households, but users will still be held responsible for the materials they borrow.

The upcoming change was announced on Monday by the Burlington County Library System.

"As of July 1, everyone will be starting with a clean slate and we will no longer impose overdue fines for late returns from that date forward," said BCLS Director Ranjha Das.

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The decision to eliminate fines came after more than a year of discussion and research concerning the potential change.

According to library staff, overdue fines have proven to not be an effective method of getting individuals to return borrowed materials. And the fines may cause some cardholders to stop using the library altogether.

More than 35,300 BCLS cardholders have been inactive and not borrowed materials for over a year, staff said. Close to 24,000 have not borrowed materials in over two years.

Fine vs. fee

The change will apply to books, DVDs, CDs, magazines, movies, video games, and technology-on-loan.

Overdue fines in the library system ranged from 15 cents per day for books. After two years, an overdue standard book could cost a user more than $100.

With the new system, cardholders will instead be charged a replacement fee for lost or unreturned materials. The replacement fee will be charged after a "grace period."

"Fine-free does not mean cardholders won't be held responsible for the materials they borrow. They will still be charged for lost or unreturned material," Das said. "What we've learned from other libraries that have already made this change is that material return rates increase, along with material circulations, library card registrations and overall usership. We're expecting similar results with our library system."

According to the library system, the revenue loss anticipated from the change equates to less than 1% of overall revenue.

BCLS isn't the first in New Jersey to make the move. Ocean County has been operating fine-free since the summer of 2021. Individual libraries in Montclair and Bloomfield scrapped overdue fines before the coronavirus pandemic.

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