Scranton Library Forgives, Eliminates All Late Fines Going Forward
Beginning this month, people can say goodbye to late fees at the E.C. Scranton Memorial Library—not just during the pandemic, but forever, after the board voted earlier this month to abolish fines at the library in perpetuity.
While many libraries around the state suspended or forgave fines temporarily during the pandemic, Director Sunnie Scarpa said no one will ever pay a late fine here in Madison ever again, including forgiving all fines owned now.
“At its core the philosophy behind going fine free is to make our library more inclusive and provide more equitable access to our resources across the community,” Scarpa told The Source via email.
According to Scarpa, fines are not an effective means of motivating people to return materials on time, and additionally can be a barrier to even checking them out.
Seniors, families with young children, and anyone with limited financial means are particularly likely to be turned off by fines, Scarpa said.
Scarpa said she actually recommended Scranton eliminate fines last October. At that time, five other libraries in the state had already eliminated fines, and Scarpa said the pandemic has likely motivated more libraries to follow suit. Others are waiting until their reopening to make the decision, but Scarpa said the movement is gaining “national momentum.”
Several larger cities, including San Diego and Los Angeles in California, and Hartford here in Connecticut, have recently eliminated fees, along with smaller Connecticut towns like Simsbury.
Other places like Bridgeport, have proposed special programs that eliminate most fines for children or seniors.
The library will still charge replacement fees for items that are not returned at all, which remains a “financial incentive,” Scarpa said. Open communication—including letting people sign up for alerts via text message—is how the library will motivate people to bring books and other materials back, according to Scarpa
People are actually more likely to return materials when they are only faced with replacement fees and no late fees, studies have shown, as many people simply stop going to the library if they rack up too many fines.
As the library moves forward toward a full re-opening, recently launching its contactless pick-up and drop-off system and a program to allow residents to tour the new building by appointment, Scarpa said the choice to eliminate fines is simply another way E.C. Scranton will be able to better serve a larger swath of residents.
“Our mission [is] improving the quality of life for all Madison residents by providing free, equitable access to all of our resources,” Scarpa said. “[The choice to eliminate fines] made me so proud to be part of this team, that truly looks out for everyone in the community.”