Robin Fox and daughter Ieashia say they love to visit libraries, browse through several books, and take the time to read them.

It is good news for them – and probably for thousands of other people – that the metropolitan library system Thursday will stop charging fees for overdue books as part of a one-year “fine-free” pilot program.

“It’s a great thing for people who visit the library all the time and are really library oriented,” said Robin Fox. “When you owe a fine, if you cannot afford to pay the fine, your privileges are suspended. So you are without.

It’s a problem library officials have said they hope to avoid, at least for the next year. In addition to ending the fines, the library system also waived more than $ 400,000 in overdue book fines on Wednesday, benefiting 40,000 to 50,000 people, officials said.

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Robin Fox talks about the Metropolitan Library System's overdue book policy at the downtown library on Wednesday.

Eliminate overdue fines to open the library to more people

The library system joins a growing number of libraries nationwide who have closed the book over a practice that prevents some people from using library resources.

“Our goal is to give our customers back access to the library,” said Dr. Larry Nash White, executive director of the library system, in a press release. “If you’ve stayed away from the library due to overdue fines, we want you to come back. “

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Library fines can sometimes be a barrier for low-income people who need access to information to find jobs and learn, said Kim Terry, public relations manager for the library system. Customers with $ 25 or more in library fines cannot use library resources, an issue the pandemic has highlighted.

“A lot of people need the library, but when they have fines – especially those in a lower income bracket – they can’t pay the fines,” Terry said. “It’s really important, especially for low-income people, to be able to come back to the library and get the information they need.

Overdue book fines represent less than 1% of Metropolitan Library System revenue.  The fines are removed for next year.

Not all library materials will be free from fines and customers should always return materials they have borrowed. The library will continue to assess fines for lost or damaged items, and customers will be billed for the cost of replacing items overdue by at least 60 days. Customers will not have to pay the cost if they return the item.

Late fees will still be applied to technology releases, such as computers and Wi-Fi hotspots, materials loaned from other libraries, and experience passes, which allow library patrons explore the Oklahoma City Art Museum.

Wednesday’s fine waiver does not apply to unpaid fines for lost or damaged items.

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Officials say eliminating late fees will not prevent the library from balancing its books, as overdue fines represent less than 1% of the library’s system revenue.

“The elimination of the Metropolitan Library System late payment fines is a change that will reduce community disparities and increase access to the library and its resources for those who need it most,” White said in a press release. . “The library’s mission is to share information – not to generate income.”

Robin Fox's daughter, Ieashia, puts books in her bag on June 30 at the library in downtown Oklahoma City.

Elimination of late library fees successful so far

The library permanently eliminated fines on children’s material in 2020. Since then, library officials have seen an increase in the number of young people who have viewed library material, Terry said.

“A lot of times they (the kids) didn’t want to tell their parents they had fines and late fees,” Terry said. “When these were erased, they were able to come back to the library to check them. “

The number of departures to the library is still down from pre-pandemic levels, making it difficult to determine whether the elimination of fees has increased departures, Terry said. However, officials say they hope the pilot will be successful and encourage former library users to get started with books again.

“It’s a trend,” Terry said. “Lots of libraries run free for all material, so we just wanted to try it out, see how it worked, see what kind of reaction we got from people. We just want to make sure it really benefits everyone. “

Library patrons like Robin Fox say they think the program will do just that, especially for people like Ieashia.

“It benefits me because she still wants to check all those books, and I can leave her and not worry about fines,” said Robin Fox. “That’s a good thing. It really is.”

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