WATSONVILLE—The Watsonville Public Library (WPL) opened a new chapter last week by canceling its overdue fine system and forgiving all pending overdue fines.
At a meeting on Aug. 18, the Library Board of Trustees unanimously voted to make the change after library director Alicia Martinez approached them with the request.
Martinez says the change is meant to improve access to information and resources to South County’s diverse community.
“It was a financial barrier for many,” she said. “We wanted to be fair in that sense, and provide another way for individuals to come back to the library, return the materials and not be fined.”
Late fines have never been a substantial revenue generator either, Martinez added, as WPL’s have alway been much lower than other libraries. In addition, changes in administration procedures, such as the implementation of automatic renewals, has resulted in dwindling fine collection.
“Now, with automatic renewal, If your book is due in three weeks, it automatically renews for you for another three,” she explained. “That prevents you from being fined. It has really helped.”
The decision to go fine-free comes after a number of other libraries across the U.S. have also made the change. Locally, libraries throughout Santa Cruz, Monterey and San Benito counties have switched their policies. All branches of the Santa Cruz Public Libraries (SCPL) system, for instance, eliminated overdue fines on children’s and teens materials in 2018, and in 2021 for the entire collection.
“Library fines create barriers for the very people our library is supposed to help,” said Sarah Harbison, Collection Management Services manager with SCPL.
Harbison cited The American Library Association, who in 2019 issued a resolution on monetary fines as a form of social inequity: “Libraries will need to take determined and pragmatic action to dismantle practices of collecting monetary fines.”
So far, Harbison said the change has been very positive.
“It has changed the nature of many interactions between staff and patrons,” she said. “SCPL has a friendly and talented staff who would much rather spend their time introducing patrons to new services and resources than [have] a debt collection conversation.”
While WPL’s new policy eliminates overdue fines, users are still responsible for fees associated with the replacement of lost or damaged items they check out. The library will still send out three late notices, and automatic renewal and SMS text message alerts are still available.
“We think nine weeks is enough to have an item,” Martinez said. “More than that and you’ll start to forget. We will start calling and giving people a gentle nudge to return the books so others can enjoy them.”
Martinez said she hopes the change will encourage people to come back to the library, and make it more inclusive to everyone.
“It’s also a way of encouraging kids or teens who for whatever reason didn’t come back to the library, maybe because they owed money,” she said. “We really want them to come back and use our services and to feel comfortable here.”
To learn more about Watsonville Public Library’s new fine free policy, and information on upcoming events and programs, visit bit.ly/3rQSdI6.