For the editor:
As Directors of Guilderland Public Library and Altamont Free Library, we have the honor of running two very different libraries.
The Altamont Free Library has a collection of fewer than 14,000 items, a budget of $165,000, and occupies just 2,000 square feet in a historic train station. Guilderland Public Library has a collection of over 100,000 items, a budget of several million dollars and has recently completed an expansion to its now state-of-the-art facilities.
Despite our superficial differences, we are much more alike than it seems. We share a strong commitment to the community we both serve. We share a tax base from which we both receive support.
Most importantly, we share a set of values, one of which is a commitment to ensuring that materials in our libraries are as accessible as possible to every member of our community.
In recent years, libraries across the country have begun to recognize that late fees charged for overdue materials can create barriers between people and their libraries. For some, late fines — usually 10 cents or 25 cents per item per day late — aren’t hard to bear.
However, these fees can add up quickly. When they do, overdue fines can become a burden, especially for those who can least afford it.
Paying library fines can be a source of shame and anxiety and can prevent people from continuing to use their libraries. Often, those with fines on their accounts are the same people who need access to their libraries the most.
In the spirit of creating more equitable and accessible libraries for all, we are proud to announce that both of our libraries are eliminating overdue fines.
In doing so, we join 20 other local libraries, including Voorheesville and Albany Public Libraries, and countless others nationwide in recognizing that overdue fines represent an unnecessary barrier between the community and the items we we own and have purchased with taxpayer support.
Now, that doesn’t mean people are free to keep library materials forever. If the items are overdue for more than 30 days, a charge for the cost of replacing the overdue items will be applied to the cardholder’s account.
Individuals will not be able to borrow additional items or renew the equipment they own until these fees are paid. This can happen by returning items in good condition or paying replacement costs for a lost or damaged item.
Additionally, we will forgive all existing outstanding fines, effective immediately. We hope this will encourage those who have been fined to start using the library again and take advantage of all that we have to offer.
Our libraries have been moving in this direction for some time now. Altamont removed outstanding fines on children’s material in 2020 and extended this policy to include material aimed at young adults in 2021. Guilderland has not imposed any outstanding fines since the start of the pandemic.
We have had good results with these incremental or temporary practices, and this new policy will only extend or make permanent what we have already done.
We believe, and numerous studies have proven, that library users are primarily motivated to attend and turn in items on time, knowing that library resources belong to the whole community and that d other people deserve to have the opportunity to use them.
Fear of incurring financial penalties is simply not an effective motivator. For this reason, we do not expect this new policy to result in empty library shelves or a noticeable decline in the quality of library service.
The experience of other libraries that have eliminated overdue fines has been almost uniformly positive. When the Chicago Public Library eliminated overdue fines in 2019, it reported that long-overdue materials returned to the library and library card renewals hit an all-time high. Many other libraries have reported similar results.
If the past two years have taught us anything, it’s that public libraries are essential in helping to maintain strong communities. Amid the many disruptions of the pandemic era, the misinformation and confusion we encounter online, the rising costs of almost everything, and the chaos and turmoil of the world, libraries remain a welcoming refuge. , inclusive, soothing and stimulating.
We hope that by breaking through the barrier of overdue fines, we will welcome new customers, bring back old friends and spread the message that libraries belong to us all.