Some SC Public Libraries Begin to Drop Fines for Late Books

Jan 17, 2020

Patrons of the Richland Library have a reason to smile these days.  A few months ago, the library stopped charging late fees for overdue books.  The move is one more way the library tries to be accessible to people and remove barriers to using the facility, said Director Melanie Huggins, who cited a recent study that found more than 24,000 people could no longer check materials out of the library because they owed more than $10 in fines.  

"The staff were really champions for going fine-free because the people that were being stopped from using the library were people that $10 is a lot of money to.  So the real impetus was, we wanted people to use the library, and we didn't want to have barriers." 

Going fine-free is a national trend among libraries, and Richland Library is the second public library in South Carolina to eliminate late fines, following the lead of the Charleston County Public Library.  Director Angela Craig echoed Huggins's sentiments about lowering barriers, saying she also didn't want embarrassment over book fines to stop anyone from using the library.  She said the library understands that everyone is subject to the busy-ness of life, including librarians themselves.  "We're all human, we all have busy lives, we and forget things, too, we forget our own books all the time.  We just want our library to be a welcoming space."

Both directors said the money collected from fines is not depended on as a source of revenue in their budgets, and is a relatively small amount.  Roland Bart, a longtime patron of the Richland Library,  added that  fines weren't an incentive for him to return books, since he rarely incurred them.  But the removal of fines does give some people an incentive to use the library more, he believes.

Both libraries will still charge people the full price of a book if it's never returned, the directors said, but will remove late or lost-book charges anytime materials are brought back.  

The decision to go fine-free has had not only a positive effect on library patrons, but also of staff, according to Huggins, who said staffers are "thrilled" because they no longer have to be the "bad guy" who tells people they can't check out materials because of overdue fines.  

The librarians expect, and hope, that other South Carolina libraries will drop the fines in time.  Huggins said for any library that wishes to reach more people, going fine-free should be its first consideration.