Calvert Library Board of Library Trustees Votes in Fine Free Permanently

August 24, 2019

Calvert Library’s Board of Library Trustees (BOLT) announced at the Board of County Commissioners meeting on Tuesday, August 20 that they have voted to adopt the “fine free” policy that they have piloted since early March of this year. Board President Carolyn McHugh said, “We wanted to be sure that the practice had more positive outcomes than negative. We now feel confident that being fine free has not significantly impacted material availability and we are delighted to be able to remove barriers to information access for our community.” In a press release announcing the pilot in March of 2019, Ms. McHugh said, “Calvert Library plays a critical role in early literacy from birth through preschool age when brains are growing the most. We inspire student excitement about learning and help build academic success that is a strong precursor to financial success. The library helps customers build job skills and connect to resources that may enable them to create successful businesses or improve the community. We want all Calvert Countians to have access to library services and to feel comfortable using the library. We want Calvert to experience the economic and quality-of-life benefits that accessible lifelong-education provides to the community.”

Materials shared in the tri-county area checked out at Calvert Library locations will not incur late fees. Materials obtained from other libraries in the state will continue to accrue late fees. Automatic renewal will continue for four circulation cycles if no one is waiting for the item.

When library Executive Director Carrie Willson was asked about the impact of lost revenue she said, “Last year overdue fines amounted to less than $35,000 a year for Calvert Library, which is less than 1% of the library’s annual budget. We expect to offset some of that amount through income from offering passport application and renewal services. We can offer hours that are not available at our post offices, which will help many Calvert Countians with scheduling challenges. We don’t have another county library system with our population density offering this service so our estimates are imprecise but we hope to recoup $15,000 this year and $30,000 in future years.” When asked if she’s seen any other savings, Willson added, “Not dealing with fine transactions allows us to deploy staff in a much more economically impactful way for the community. Increased access to information, technology, lifelong education and career building support will increase the economic vitality and quality of life. And decreasing stress for customers and staff is a priceless impact.”

Ms. Willson and BOLT members presented their proposal to the Board of County Commissioners at the December 4, 2018 meeting. Commissioner Pat Nutter raised concerns about materials, particularly those high-demand items like DVDs, being returned in a timely manner. The research the library did prior to their trial indicated that there would be a small increase in short-term overdues but long-term overdues would not be impacted. Calvert Library has actually experienced a small decrease in short-term overdues during the trial. Prior to the trial, an average of 2,107 items were overdue by 3 days or more and during the trial, the average was 2,045 overdue (a decrease of 2.9%). Overdue items account for less than 1% of the items available for circulation.

Nationwide, physical circulation of materials has been flat or slowly decreasing for libraries. People are using libraries more for classes, access to technology and a community gathering space and checking out fewer physical books and more digital books and audio-visual materials. During this fine free trial, Calvert Library saw an increase of 1.62% in circulation compared to the same time period the previous year. Book circulation specifically is up 3.8% and popular video circulation is up 1.82%.

Prior to the trial, the library had about 25,000 active cardholders, which represent about a 38% household penetration. That number increased by close to 4,000 people during the trial period. President McHugh said, “We are delighted to see customers returning to the library and finding so much on offer that will improve their lives.”