No more spending dollars to collect dimes: Dayton library to end late fees

There is nearly three miles of fixed shelving in the new Dayton Metro Libary downtown, holding more than 335,000 volumes. LISA POWELL / STAFF
There is nearly three miles of fixed shelving in the new Dayton Metro Libary downtown, holding more than 335,000 volumes. LISA POWELL / STAFF

The Dayton Metro Library is eliminating late fees for overdue materials, joining a growing group of libraries across the country that have done away with most financial penalties for tardy borrowers.

The change, however, will not eliminate all financial consequences for failure to return materials.

The cost of collecting fines and associated bookkeeping exceeds the revenue from collections, and there are far better uses of library staff’s time, library officials said.

Overdue fines also prevent some people from checking out materials, which undermine’s the library’s mission to inform, inspire and enrich the life of all members of the community, said Tim Kambitsch, Dayton Metro Library executive director.

“Philosophically, the bigger thing is that we find that our relationship with our patrons is negatively impacted when you get into discussions about collecting nickels and dimes,” he said.

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Library users will be billed for the cost of replacing items if they are not returned within three weeks of the due date, and they will be required to pay a collection fee for materials that are 35 days or more overdue.

On Jan. 1, the Dayton Metro Library will no longer charge overdue fines for materials that are checked out and returned to its locations across the Dayton area.

Borrowed materials still will have due dates, but the 10-cents-per-day late fees are being nixed.

This is the first time in the library’s history that it will not charge late fees. The library in 1805 had a 3 cents per week fee, but it also charged 3 cents for every page that borrowers dogeared or dripped wax on while using a candle.

Currently, the maximum accumulated fines the library charges are $5 per adult cataloged book or audio or video item and $2.50 for uncatalogued books or magazines.

The library also charges patrons the full price of replacing lost items and a $10 processing fee for damaged items.

Collecting and recording nickels and dimes for fines and then depositing those small amounts of money on a regular schedule consumes more staff time than the revenues justify, Kambitsch said.

Library staff should not be tethered to the cash registers — they should be walking around, assisting patrons, Kambitsch said.

Borrowers will still be charged for lost or damaged items and will be sent notices when their items are three days overdue and then again when they are 14 days overdue.

When items are 21 days overdue, the library will send borrowers a bill for the cost of replacing the materials, said Chuck Duritsch, Dayton Metro Library external relations manager.

At the 35-day overdue mark, a collection agency will send notices to borrowers requesting payment for replacement costs and a $10 collection fee will be added to their accounts, Duritsch said.

Library patrons will not be allowed to check out materials when they have $10 or more in charges on their account or 10 or more items overdue.

There will be no charges for materials returned between 21 and 35 days overdue. Materials returned after 35 days will not result in a late fee. However, the $10 collection fee will be assessed to the borrower’s account. The $10 fee applies to all items not returned. It is not $10 per item.

However, people with blocked accounts can still check out eBooks, reserve meeting rooms, use public computers and take advantage of other library services.

An analysis found that the fines are not motivating people to return items sooner — they bring materials back when it is convenient for them, Kambitsch said.

“We don’t want to interfere with (patrons) using the libraries because of some small fine,” Kambitsch said. “And we may be spending dollars to collect dimes.”

Many libraries across the nation have decided to get rid of late fees, and many more are expected to follow suit in coming years, officials said.

“It is so much work,” Duritsch said. “We have to keep a cash drawer at all the libraries that we have to balance daily.”

It makes sense for the library to eliminate overdue fines rather than raise them to pay for the increased cost of collections, officials said.

Children’s materials at the Dayton Metro Library already do not carry overdue fees. The library had charged 2 cents per day for overdue children’s books, dating back to the 1930s.

But the library eliminated fines for books from the children’s collection a decade ago.

Also at that time, the library reduced its fines for late movies from $1 per day to 10 cents per day, saying the change would prevent many people from having their cards blocked. The $1 per day fine for films was set in the 1980s.

About two years ago, the library made a significant change when it added up to five automatic renewals to books and materials that have no outstanding hold requests.

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