Henrietta and Rush Libraries Eliminate Overdue Fines Starting 9/1

When she was growing up in Hamlin, the nearest public library, the Seymour branch in Brockport, was something of a haven for Adrienne Pettinelli.

“I was living in a difficult family situation and reading was so essential to me,” she said. “It was essential for me to understand the life I was living and it was essential for me to understand how to access a different life.”

As a youngster, Pettinelli was captivated by JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, finding hope in the idea that disparate people could come together to help each other and improve their lives. She finished the voluminous series and then started reading it again.

She lived about half an hour from the library, so she said it wasn’t always easy for her to get there to return her books on time, but a staff member always waived her fines.

Henrietta Public Library Director Adrienne Pettinelli sees waiving late fees as a way to increase access to and use of the library, especially for families with children, seniors and other people who find it difficult to pay them.

These acts of grace, she says, are what inspired her to become a librarian. She wants children to have the same opportunities to discover a new world and new possibilities in their public library.

“These kids are out there and you don’t know who they are when they walk through the door,” she said. “They look like all the other kids, you know, but they have these needs.”

Pettinelli, now director of the Henrietta Public Library, remembers her childhood as she helped usher in a new era for local library patrons.

Beginning September 1, Henrietta and Rush Public Libraries will become the first in Monroe County to waive late fines on books and other materials for all users. They still collect fines for lost and damaged items.

Seven others – Rochester, Fairport, Hamlin, Irondequoit, Parma, Pittsford and Webster – do not charge for child and youth documents returned after their due date.

A growing number of libraries in the United States are eliminating all or part of late fees. The entire Buffalo & Erie County Public Library system became completely fine-free on May 1. Other local libraries outside of Monroe County, including Macedon Public Library in Wayne County and Livonia Public Library in Livingston County, did the same this year.

In 2019, the governing body of the American Library Association passed a resolution on library fines as a form of social inequality. ALA’s position is that fines act as a barrier to library services for many people.

Pettinelli agrees. She sees it as a matter of equity, access and social justice.

“The kind of stuff we see is a parent standing in front of us saying to a child, ‘You can only check two items because I’m afraid we won’t get them back in time,'” she declared.

Tameka and Ariah Stewart.jpg
Tameka and Ariah Stewart take advantage of the children’s section of the Henrietta Public Library. Stewart says she plans to visit the library with her children more often now that fines are no longer being levied for late items.

On a recent morning, users of Henrietta’s library reacted to the news that they would no longer be required to pay for material they returned after the due date.

“We’re going to be here more often than usual,” said Tameka Stewart, who was in the children’s section with her young daughter, Ariah.

“A lot of people sometimes forget they even have the books,” Stewart said. “I once had a niece with me once and I rented two books for her and she left, she went to New York with the books, and I had to go there and pick them up.”

Chrystal Balence, the mother of three – twins and a daughter – described the news as “rather exciting”.

“I don’t want to take advantage of it,” Balence said, “but it’s a good incentive to be able to say that I won’t have to worry (due to late fees).”

Murray Weaver, who was browsing the fiction selection, was a little dismayed when he heard about the new policy.

“Why would they eliminate late fees? ” He asked. “People are lazy. I’m old fashioned and think they should charge. When you get free books, accountability is everything. No one is held accountable.”

Pettinelli said it’s the No. 1 refusal she hears about the no-fines policy. She argues that if individual families still want to hold themselves and their children accountable in some way, they can.

“But the reality for some kids is that they don’t have transportation to get to the library, even though they have the means to know when items are due,” she said. declared. “Then why would we punish them for that?”

Jennifer Ries-Taggart, executive director of the Brighton Memorial Library, said she was not totally opposed to the lack of a fine, but was concerned about the potential unintended consequences.

One is the economic impact of lost revenue from late fees, which she says average around $65,000 a year in Brighton. This figure includes $9,400 in fees for items customers want to put on hold, as well as fines for lost or damaged hardware.

“So we’re not talking about small change,” she said. “It’s not something that we could just absorb into our budget.”

Ries-Taggart said she feels responsible for protecting the investment of city taxpayers, who foot the bill for the library’s collection.

At Henrietta, revenue from late fees has steadily declined over the past decade.

Pettinelli said this was due to electronic reminders and easy online renewals. Also, e-books do not incur late fees because they roll over automatically.

In 2021, Henrietta Library collected $9,725 in late fees compared to $18,910 in 2019. 2020 was an anomaly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, when many libraries offered an amnesty period on borrowed items. That year, the total was $6,274.

Rush Public Library has seen a similar decline in late fee revenue, according to library manager Kirsten Flass. In 2012, she said fine collections totaled $5,563.

“This year we could make $1,500,” she said.

Flass, like Pettinelli, said she sees firsthand the impact overdue fines can have on a family or senior on a fixed income.

“While some patrons don’t mind paying fines,” she said, “other patrons stopped using the library because fines had become a barrier and we wanted to improve access for everyone”.

Henrietta Public Library.jpg
Henrietta Public Library is eliminating late fees on library materials for all users starting September 1.

Pettinelli and Flass said that by working with their respective library boards to eliminate late fees, they have the potential to increase library access for all families in the Rush-Henrietta Central School District, where 46 % of students are economically disadvantaged, according to the New York State Department of Education.

While Ries-Taggart said she understands her colleagues’ position, she thinks a ban on late fees could be unfair to those who have to wait for a book because the last person who borrowed it has no financial incentive to give it back.

“This would have a ripple effect for customers who can no longer get the item they want because it is not returned and/or the library does not have the budget to replace it,” said she declared.

But Patricia Uttaro, director of the Monroe County Library System and the Rochester Public Library, said when all Rochester library branches eliminated late fees on children’s and teen materials in 2016, Opponents predicted that people would take advantage of the policy and fail to return items on time. or not at all.

“It was the big, ‘Oh my God! All of our stuff is going to go away! Nobody’s going to bring it back,'” she said.

“And it didn’t happen 100%.”

In Macedonia, where the abolition of late fees applies to all customers, library manager Stacey Wicksall said the change has created a community of goodwill.

“We have noticed that donations coming into the library have increased,” she said. “But more importantly, what we’ve noticed is that people don’t have barriers to using the library.”

As more libraries adopt a free policy, Ries-Taggart expects community members to ask when Brighton Memorial Library will make the change.

But for now, she’s still not convinced that a fine is the way to go.

“I understand if it was a different kind of charge that was out of your control,” she said. “But something like a fine, there is a way around. You just return the material in time.”

Uttaro thinks it’s not that easy for everyone. She heard of a woman who walked into the central library one evening and had to choose between paying what she owed in late fees so she could borrow the books she needed for school or paying for her ticket. bus home.

“Sometimes people who don’t have economic hardship don’t understand that,” Uttaro said.

“We can’t solve poverty, but the library can do something that makes it a little less difficult for people.”

Uttaro said she’s been promoting fine-free policies for years, but the Rochester Library Board couldn’t reach a consensus on whether to expand that to include all users of Rochester Library branches. the city.

She said they were conducting a test at the Central Library this month on the labor costs of collecting fines. Uttaro said it’s not always a simple transaction at the loan office.

“Fines are probably one of the biggest things that people get really, really angry at in the library, and that takes time, more likely from the supervisors and sometimes from me as the library manager, to work with people through real anger,” she says.

Back at Henrietta, Pettinelli keeps her eyes peeled for all the long-lost items that return to the library shelves once people hear that it no longer comes with a hefty fine.

“About five years ago we got a real LP record back from when we released them, that was decades ago,” she said. “So these things are already appearing.”

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