Six months ago, the Dayton Metro Library eliminated late fines, and revenues from fees, as expected, have declined since then.
But, surprisingly, fewer borrowed materials have become overdue, and borrowers actually have returned more overdue materials to the Ohio library than they did in 2017, officials said.
Late fines weren’t very effective at getting people to return materials, officials said.
Instead, patrons seem to be more motivated to return items to avoid replacement costs and losing borrowing privileges than they were to avert accumulating fees, officials said.
Late fees were a drain on library resources, and collecting them did not promote a good relationship with patrons, said Tim Kambitsch, the executive director of the Dayton Metro Library.
“A long time ago, the overdue fines stopped having an impact on people’s timeliness of returning items,” he said. “What’s really made a big difference is that we’ve been more aggressive in how people’s borrowing privileges get limited with the new policy if they don’t return items.”
On Jan. 1, the Dayton Metro Library stopped collecting late fines for the first time in its history.
Borrowed materials continue to have due dates, but the library no longer has a 10-cents-per-day overdue fee.
However, items not returned after 21 days overdue are considered lost and the library adds a charge to the borrower’s account to replace the materials.
After 35 days overdue, the library adds a $10 processing fee to the replacement costs, and the borrower’s account is turned over to a collection agency.
Most materials are eligible for multiple automatic renewals, meaning borrowers can hold onto them for extended periods of time.
The elimination of the late fee was partly a financial calculation. The library was spending dollars to chase dimes, officials said.
But late fees did generate some revenue.
Through the end of May, the library collected about $70,875 in fees for lost or damaged items under its new policy.
That’s 31 percent less than it collected during the same period last year in fees for late, damaged and lost materials.
However, the elimination of late fees is projected to impact the library’s overall annual operating revenues by less than 0.2 percent this year, or about $61,625, officials said.
Charging nickels and dimes for late fines and then recording and depositing the payments was not a good use of library staff members’ time, Kambitsch said.
Staff now have more opportunities to have positive interactions with patrons, Kambitsch said.
The threat of losing the right to borrow has proven to be a stronger incentive for patrons, Kambitsch said.
Under the new policy, patrons’ borrowing privileges become restricted if they have a certain number of items on their account that are long overdue or considered lost, he said.
Also, the library more quickly turns over accounts to a collection agency with the new policy. A collection agency used to brought in after 56 days. Now, it’s 35 days.
The library is more aggressively going after materials that are long overdue and is still charging people to replace lost items, Kambitsch said.
“This is not, in any shape, letting people off the hook,” he said. “This was very much about us finding the right way to get people to return materials.”
This year, the library has seen a decrease in the number of items that become overdue.
Through the end of May, about 20,360 overdue items were returned. That’s more than double the number of overdue items that were returned during the same period in 2017.
Patrons know that the library turns overdue accounts over to collections sooner, and they definitely do not want to face that, said Diane Farrell, the library’s director of external relations and development.
But also, she said, patrons likely are returning more overdue items because they don’t have to worry about paying a late fee when they bring them back.
“Anytime people return borrowed items, it’s a good thing,” she said. “It’s a good thing when they check them out, and it’s a good thing when they return them.”