If you owe overdue fines at the Seattle Public Library, Jan. 2 might be your lucky day: Starting on that day, the library will eliminate daily fees for overdue materials — and will forgive existing balances.
The change in policy follows the approval of a $219 million Seattle library levy, which was passed overwhelmingly by voters in August. The levy will pay for the loss of revenue caused by eliminating fines, as well as for extended hours for many Seattle Public Library (SPL) branches, seismic renovations at several sites and additional programs for patrons.
In eliminating overdue fines, SPL is following in the footsteps of a number of other library systems nationwide, including the local Sno-Isle system. The purpose, said SPL chief librarian Marcellus Turner, is to provide easy and equitable access to library resources for all patrons.
“Fines can be a very real and significant burden for some of the most vulnerable residents in our community,” he said in a statement. “By removing this obstacle we are giving every resident in Seattle greater access to education and opportunity.”
It’s not that all charges are going away — the library still wants its books back. Patrons who do not return materials 14 days after their due date will have their library accounts suspended until the items are returned. And SPL will charge replacement fees for lost or damaged materials. (An item is considered lost if it is not returned after 31 days. And if an account has a balance of $25 or more and is 30 days past due, SPL will refer that account to a collection agency and charge an additional $10 fee.)
But this change brings print materials to the same level as electronic resources (overdue e-books and other e-material already do not accrue fines), and Turner hopes it will encourage former patrons to return. The library announced on Jan. 2 that an estimated 51,000 patrons whose accounts had been suspended due to overdue fines will be reinstated and again able to check out materials.
“We know it is sometimes difficult to return materials to the library — schedules change, a work issue comes up, you don’t have transportation, or you simply forgot because you have too much on your plate,” he said in the statement. “In short, life gets in the way. We would rather have you back visiting the library instead of staying away because you have a few overdue books.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect the number of accounts that will be forgiven. The number was not yet available when the story was originally published.