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Ferndale Public Library interior (December 3, 2016). Photo: My Ferndale News

Whatcom libraries to get rid of overdue fines – forgive current balances

Public libraries throughout Whatcom County, including the Ferndale Public Library, will forgive all overdue fines owed and will stop imposing fines for late returns beginning January 2nd.

Following the experiences of other libraries across the state and country (see map below), Whatcom County Library System (WCLS) officials announced they will stop imposing late fees and will forgive existing overdue account balances effective January 2, 2020. The WCLS Board of Trustees approved the change during their September meeting.

We want to welcome people back to the library; people who may have been avoiding the library or are blocked from using the library because they have overdue fines or because they are concerned about accruing fines.

WCLS Board of Trustees Chair Marvin Waschke

The most recent WCLS policy is to charge $0.25 per day fee up to a maximum of $10.00 for library materials returned late.

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“We understand that it’s sometimes hard to return materials to the library,” WCLS Executive Director Christine Perkins said. “Weather, family demands, schedule changes; life has a way of confounding our best plans. Some community members are also challenged by uncertain housing or transportation.”

Currently, 8,422 or 8.6%, of WCLS cardholders owe $10 or more in fines and, as a result, are currently blocked from checking out library materials according to library officials. Collected fines have represented 0.6% of the total WCLS budget.

Patrons can still expect to still be charged the replacement cost for unreturned or damaged items. Borrowing privileges can still be suspended after an unspecified balance is reached according to the announcement.

During a January 2019 meeting, the American Library Association said overdue fines have become “a form of social inequity” and “an economic barrier to access of library materials and services.” They encouraged member libraries “to scrutinize their practices of imposing fines on library patrons and actively move towards eliminating them.”

WCLS stopped imposing late fees for youth materials in 2013.

Locations where library users do not pay fees when returning overdue materials. (Source: Urban Libraries Council)

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  1. Doug Karlberg Doug Karlberg November 16, 2019

    Thirty years ago the Bellingham Public library gave me a large fine for failing to return a number of books. I went to the library and pleaded my case by going to the shelves and pulling the books that I had allegedly not returned. Even when confronted with their error, they refused to correct the fine and proceeded to place this unpaid fine on my credit record and suspended my borrowing privileges for the last thirty years. I love to read, but I have learned to read lots, without the library. The most avid readers often had the largest fines. The library essentially chased away some of the best customers. To bad the library did not read some of their own business books.

    • judith lockwood judith lockwood November 16, 2019

      That’s a long time to have a chip on your shoulder, sir.

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