Monday, January 14, 2008

Fine-free library a profitable idea

Trustees find 'conscience donation' a positive revenue generator
By Patrick Cronin
Seacoast Sunday
January 13, 2008
(Republished here with permission)

A grown-up Al Bundy returns an overdue library book he took out when he was a kid and ends up owing $2,163 in late fees for the "Little Engine That Could."

While that exaggerated scenario played out on television's "Married with Children," everyone can relate to having an overdue book.

But the days of fines at libraries may be a thing of the past, with more and more libraries choosing to do away with the overdue book fines.

The Lane Memorial Library in Hampton recently enacted an end to fines, joining the practice in place at Stratham and North Hampton public libraries.

Greenland, Epping and other smaller communities have implemented the same policy at their libraries.

Bill Teschek, acting director of Lane Memorial Library, said fines were replaced with a "conscience donation" box on a trial basis in April.

It was so successful that the library trustees made it permanent at their December meeting.

"I think the biggest reason why we made the change is because fines are so negative and people can be turned off by them," Teschek said. "We wanted to make their experience at the library a positive one."

And while they thought they would lose a lot of revenue that is usually used to purchase more books, the opposite occurred.

"We have found that people have been donating more," according to Teschek.

Being more user-friendly has also increased traffic and has benefited staff, which no longer has to "nickle and dime" patrons.

"We want to encourage people to come in and not give them a reason not to," Teschek said.

When the library did have fines, it had what is called "amnesty weeks" in which patrons holding on to books for fear of big fines could return them without any monetary penalty.

"It worked," Teschek said. "That just goes to prove that library fines can just as often be a deterrent to getting items back as it is an incentive."

A fines-free policy doesn't mean users are responsibility-free.

"We still charge for lost or damaged books," Teschek said.

Susan Grant, co-director of the North Hampton Public Library, said it has had no fines since 2006.

Like the Lane Memorial Library, it also has the "conscience donation." And what it has lost in revenue for overdue items the library has gained in good will.

Grant is quick to acknowledge that North Hampton's policy would not work everywhere, especially in a city.

"We are a small library in a small town where everyone knows everyone," Grant said. "I know all the patrons by name, and they are more than willing to contribute to the library without being asked to pay a fine."


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