Great Falls library encouraging patrons to return after eliminating late fines

The Great Falls Public Library Board voted in May to eliminate late fines and forgive all outstanding late fines.

It took the library some time to change the software and accounting systems, but that work is now complete and library staffers and board members are hoping it will encourage more people to return to the library.

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Staff and the board had been considering the move for months and recently an anonymous donor offered $85,000 to the library, contingent on the elimination of late fees. The plan to eliminate late fines was also included in the library’s 2019-2022 strategic plan.

The library ceased charging late fees since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, but there were late fines left in the system from previous years, blocking some people from using library materials and services.

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While developing their strategic plan, library staff conducted community surveys and in doing so, found that about half of the respondents who didn’t currently use the library had library cards, but were blocked due to outstanding fines.

The library charged 10 cents for most materials per day not returned by their due date. A patron account with more than $5 in late fines is blocked from checking out or renewing items.

The library typically brings in $10,000, or about 0.07 percent of their budget, in late fines annually so staff is working on fundraising, including the fine free fun run that started last year, to offset that revenue loss.

The second Fine Free Fun Run was planed for June but was postponed due to COVID-19.

The library also has a policy of working with patrons to create payment plans for fines and fees. To continue to check out library materials, a patron must have a payment plan in place, or owe less than $5, but patrons may not be aware of those options and don’t return to the library.

The information is on the F.A.Q page of the library’s website here.

Patrons who have been blocked from using their library card due to late fines are encouraged to return to the library to update their card or get a replacement, according to library staff. Replacement cards themselves cost $1, but patrons may use a photo identification to verify their account information in order to check out materials.

Lost or damaged items still carry fees. Payment plans on lost and damaged items are available for as little as $5 per month. Patrons on payment plans are able to continue to check out library materials as long as they meet their monthly minimum.