Central Minnesota Library System Waives Late Fees

They say traffic has increased since this positive news.

ST. CLOUD, Minn. — Times have changed, and so have libraries.

“Our libraries are a community hub no matter what community they are in,” said Great River Regional Library General Manager Karen Pundsack. “In some communities, the primary function it serves is broadband access to communities.”

And as a place that’s all about books, the Great River Regional Library system has decided to focus even more on making those books easily accessible.

“In 2018, we conducted a user study and it revealed that sweating and fines are two of the main barriers people face when they want to visit the library,” said Jami Trenam. Trenam is the Deputy Director of Collections Development at GRRL.

A quick fix turned out to go without fines. Since the first day of the year, the library system has gotten rid of its late fees. And as evidenced by their fee waiver pilot program for youth and children’s materials, the benefits have outweighed the costs.

“We didn’t see a marked change in the rate of material return,” Trenam said. “We have just heard a lot of positive feedback from our customers, parents, grandparents and child care providers. Child traffic started to increase, and it is a trend that continues to this day. “

They saw it as an investment in a community that invests in them.

Pundsack said it has been especially meaningful to the communities they serve with their 33 libraries in central Minnesota.

“Great River is quite a diverse community in many ways, but we also have large pockets of poverty, regardless of color,” she said. “So we have three out of our six counties that have a median income below the state average when we think about the people we’re targeting, yes that’s the BIPOC community in the St. Cloud area, but it could be these children who live in rural poverty who may not have transportation to get to the library which is also affected.”

Above all, they want to reintegrate people who may have been reluctant to come back.

“The biggest thing people get excited about is cleaning their slate clean,” said Breanne Fruth. “One of the main reasons we removed fines is to invite people back to the library, so that people who may not have returned due to the cost of fines…it gave to all of our 33 library locations the opportunity to be truly free and welcoming to all.”

The library still has a charge for damaged or lost materials and expects customers to always return books by their due date. However, instead of fines, they try to “lock” accounts so that all overdue materials must be returned before patrons can access library computers.

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