Broome County Public Library eliminates all late fees in 2022

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The Broome County Public Library eliminated overdue fines on all materials on Jan. 1. (Jillian Forstadt/WSKG)

BINGHAMTON, NY (WSKG)—Patrons of the Broome County Public Library will no longer have to pay late fees in 2022.

The library began phasing out fines this summer. The move is in step with a national trend toward eliminating barriers to library access.

In 2019, the American Library Association issued a statement urging branches to scrutinize their use of fines and move toward getting rid of them.

Broome County Library Director Josias Bartram said fines can discourage families from coming in.

“Families tend to have way more chaotic schedules that make it harder to get things back when they’re supposed to be,” Bartram said. “It ends up blocking children’s access to library materials more than anyone else’s, and that’s the group that we most want to be encouraging.”

The library will still charge for items that are lost, although those fines will be forgiven if the book is returned.

Bartram said the library’s primary focus has shifted toward serving the community through services, like art programs, computer access and peer counseling. The library is partnering with Catholic Charities in the new year to start a counseling program centered on mental health.

“It’s an effort to say, ‘What are the actual needs that we’re seeing in the community, and what are innovative ways that we can address them?’” Bartram said.

More information about the counseling program will become available in the next few weeks, Batram added.

Late fees make up a fraction of library income

The Broome County Public Library is the central branch of the Four County Library System, which also includes Chenango, Delaware and Otsego counties. About half of the 42 libraries in the system have eliminated late fees entirely, and more have gotten rid of fees on children’s material.

The entire Four County Library System stopped charging overdue fines during the initial COVID-19 shutdown last year.

Sidney Memorial Public Library Director Beth Paine said she has been working on making her library entirely fine-free. The institution ended fees on all children’s items in August.

Paine said in a small library like hers, located in Delaware County, late fees make up only around 5% of their income.

“It didn’t make sense to me to continue charging fines when it really was not a huge benefit for the library itself,” Paine said.

She received some pushback on the idea. Some argued that kids need to learn “responsibility” by getting books back in time. To that, Paine said it is not the library’s mission.

“Our job is to get them to enjoy reading,” she said.