To help families save money and encourage more people to check out materials, the Handley Regional Library System will no longer charge overdue fines for children’s books, movies and music that are returned late.
The late fees won’t be charged regardless of the age of the person checking out the children’s books, CD audiobooks and DVDs. Fines will still accrue for borrowed video games and Launchpad learning devices that are returned past their due date.
“It’s because those have significant costs,” said John Huddy, director of the library system.
Doing away with fees for children’s items has been a years-long discussion for the library system, which has three branches: Handley Library in downtown Winchester, Clarke County Library in Berryville and Bowman Library in Stephens City.
“It actually started prior to the COVID situation,” Huddy said. “The library board noted this as something we need to do.”
Eliminating ends encourages low-income residents to keep using library services.
If a patron is struggling to pay bills and has a $10 late fee from the library, they might never come back, Huddy said.
“Those who can’t afford the ends are those who probably need library services more than the next person,” he said. “We want to make sure that our customers who use the library for their children — which is a crucial time … in building that educational foundation — that they can get a book out from the library.”
Removing fines for children’s items is “very common throughout the state,” Huddy said, and about half of Virginia’s libraries have eliminated all fines.
Shenandoah County Library System based in Edinburg and Samuels Public Library in Front Royal still charge overdue fees, but their directors say they’re familiar with the idea.
“We have considered that over the years,” said Robert “Sandy” Whitesides, director of the Shenandoah County Library System, which also operates volunteer-based libraries in Strasburg, Fort Valley, Mount Jackson, Basye-Orkney Springs and New Market.
Though they’ve talked about implementing a long-term change like that, he said they haven’t decided on anything yet.
Charging fees for late items incentivizes people to bring their items back on time so others can borrow the items in a reasonable timeframe, Whitesides said.
“We don’t really want the money back as much as we want the items back,” he said.
Samuels Library also hasn’t made plans yet to eliminate any of its fees, said Executive Director Michelle Ross.
“We would really need to research that more, but certainly eliminating barriers to library access is something that we would love to do so that everybody is able to use the library,” she said.
“We’re kind of waiting to see how this goes for Handley Library,” Ross said. “And some of our other Virginia libraries are looking into this too.”
Handley charges 15 cents per day on most late items, while Shenandoah charges 20 cents and Samuels charges 10 cents.
All three library systems also cap their ends. Handley caps ends when they reach the cost of the item. Shenandoah caps their ends at $20 and Samuels caps theirs at $5.
During the pandemic, all three library systems temporarily waived overdue fees, particularly while patrons were quarantining and couldn’t make it to the library during operating hours or while the library locations were closed.
But although money isn’t the primary reason for charging fees, Whitesides said Shenandoah’s community libraries use that funding toward services and upkeep.
Shenandoah took in $8,910.40 in fines for fiscal year 2022, which includes $4,273.40 in fines for juvenile and young adult categories across its six locations.
Samuels counted $10,890 in total ends for fiscal year 2022, which Ross said is a little less than the library was bringing in before the pandemic. She did n’t specify how much she was charged for children’s items.
Huddy estimated that Handley was taking in about $10,000 per year in fines for children’s materials alone, but he said the library system has enough funding from private donors and its area localities to make up the difference.
“Our community has been supporting us really well,” he said.