Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh waives late fees at 3 locations
Officials at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh understand people are busy and may not always be able to return borrowed items on time.
That is one of the reasons the library decided to nix late fees at three of its locations.
“Even with fines in place, things still go overdue. That’s just human nature,” said Marta Honores, library services manager. “We don’t want to punish people anymore for that.”
Nine other libraries in Allegheny County also have gotten rid of late fees as part of a pilot program, hoping it will encourage more people to come to the libraries, borrow materials and return them.
The other county libraries began their initiative on Sept. 1. CLP started their policy on Nov. 1. The three participating CLP locations are the Allegheny branch on the city’s North Side, Knoxville and East Liberty.
Honores is overseeing CLP’s pilot program, which makes it so anyone who checks out and returns physical items such as books, CDs, Chromebooks, Wi-Fi hotspots and audiobooks won’t incur late fees if the items are returned past their due dates. People who received library cards at those locations also had existing late fees wiped from their accounts, she said.
Honores said late fees often deter people from using the library. Instead of focusing on fines, they want to focus on building relationships with customers.
“We don’t want people to think we don’t want anything to come back. There’s still always a due date with everything,” she said. “If you return it a little bit late, you won’t accrue a fine or anything, but eventually things will have to come back.”
If an item is six weeks overdue, the library will assume it isn’t getting returned and will send the person a bill. If the item is returned, the person’s account will be cleared, she said.
“As long as we get whatever it is that they checked out, there’s no penalty at all,” she said.
Late fines made up less than 1% of the library’s roughly $34 million budget this year. Honores said CLP decided that money wasn’t a stable source of income. She said the time staffers use to process the fines and talk with customers about them could be used to talk with them about other things.
“We have to think about the staff time piece that we could be saving, but also just in general we feel that the relationship we have with our customers is more important than that source of revenue,” she said.
Honores said there are other ways the library could generate revenue in place of late fees. Those could include becoming a passport service location, opening a coffee shop or cafe or selling merchandise.
“We’re looking at a combination of things. Our goal is not to recoup that amount. We do want to be thoughtful about other ways that we could be generating revenue while also providing enhanced services,” she said.
The library has already seen an uptick in active users members since the pilot program began. It’s expected to last three to six months, but that doesn’t mean that once that time is up the fines will be reinstated at those locations, Honores said.
She thinks it should be a permanent thing.
“Just in the few weeks that we’ve been doing it, we were getting really great feedback from our customers,” she said. “We’re seeing people who haven’t used the library using it again. We’re waiting to see the exact data, but we’ve already seen an uptick in our active users, so people who have a library card but haven’t used it in a year or two.”
Honores said eliminating late fees shows libraries are progressive. Instead of being quiet places, they’re vibrant, community spaces that are open and accessible to everyone.
“We know that fines don’t really change behavior. If someone is going to hold onto something longer, they’re going to hold it longer anyway. And if they’re going to return it on time they’re going to return it on time anyway. The fines don’t really impact whether or not people return things on time,” she said.
Other Allegheny County libraries that are participating in the pilot program include:
• Baldwin Borough Public Library
• Braddock Carnegie Library
• C.C. Mellor Memorial Library
• Carnegie Free Library of Swissvale
• F.O.R. Sto-Rox Library
• Millvale Community Library
• Monroeville Public Library
• Penn Hills Library
• Wilkinsburg Public Library