California

You'll never be charged a late fee again at these California libraries. Here's why

Jim Sprouls browses for books on the second floor of the Boise Public Library in Idaho. The Berkeley Public Library in Northern California recently announced it would do away with late fees for books and other materials, such as CDs.
Jim Sprouls browses for books on the second floor of the Boise Public Library in Idaho. The Berkeley Public Library in Northern California recently announced it would do away with late fees for books and other materials, such as CDs. doswald@idahostatesman.com

If you check out a library book and forget the due date, most of us expect late fees. But in one Northern California city, you won't have to worry.

The Berkeley Public Library says it will no longer charge daily late fees for books and other materials like CDs and magazines beginning July 1, according to a news release.

Why the change?

Many lower-income residents don’t use the library because they’re scared they’ll be charged late fees they can’t afford, said Elliot Warren, acting director of library services.

"Public libraries are the people’s university, and we need to make sure they are accessible to everyone," he said in a statement. "The current practice unintentionally tells some people they are not welcome."

Charging late fees was originally intended to encourage people to return the materials on time — but it’s become an obstacle, Warren added.

There are about 11,000 people blocked from checking out books due to unpaid overdue fees, Berkeleyside reported, and the majority of those people live in three of Berkeley’s lowest-income ZIP codes. The library has six locations throughout the city.

Right now, the daily fee for overdue books and other items is 25 cents, the East Bay Times reported, and $1 a day for materials checked out through an inter-library program.

"We don’t want anyone to feel that they can’t afford to use the library," Jay Dickinson, the library’s circulation manager, said in a news release.

Berkeley isn't the first place where libraries have decided to do away with late fees. Public libraries in Baltimore and Salt Lake City have also tossed the fines, the East Bay Times reported.

Berkeley's library locations haven't charged daily overdue fees for childrens' books in decades, the library said.

The amount of money the library has collected in fines has been decreasing in recent years, Berkeleyside reported, and that money makes up less than 1 percent of the library’s operating budget.

And 88 percent of the library’s items are returned within a week of the due date anyway, board of library trustees president Diane Davenport told the East Bay Times. There are six library locations in the Berkeley system.

But just because the late fees are gone doesn’t mean people can keep the books as long as they want.

Library officials said they’ll charge a replacement fee — usually the book’s retail price — if the item is overdue by more than six weeks, according to the East Bay Times.

And people who have three overdue items won’t be able to check out anything else until the overdue materials are returned, the library said.

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