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Akron-Summit County Public Library joins growing trend of eliminating overdue fines

 Signage for the Akron-Summit County Public Library in Downtown Akron.
Ryan Loew
Ideastream Public Media
The Akron-Summit County Public Library is going fine free.

The Akron-Summit County Public Library is joining a growing trend of libraries across the state and country in eliminating overdue fees for materials, according to a press release from the library. Starting March 1, which is the 150th anniversary of the library opening to the public, the library will no longer be charging fines for late items, and outstanding fines will be wiped from patron's accounts.

The library is the latest in Ohio to make this move. About 175 out of Ohio's 251 public library systems are fine free, according to 2022 Ohio Public Library Statistics. In Northeast Ohio, the Akron-Summit County Public Library joins the Cuyahoga County Public Library, the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County and 47 public libraries in the CLEVNET system in getting rid of fines.

In 2019, the American Library Association passed a resolution calling monetary library fines "a form of social inequity" and urged libraries to move toward eliminating them.

Eliminating fines will enhance access, provide equitable services, increase use and remove penalties from families and children who can least afford them, the Akron-Summit County Public Library said.

The Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County went fine free on Dec. 1, 2020, Executive Director Aimee Fifarek said.

"It really was a barrier to service, and it also was mostly a barrier to service for people who might be busy parents working multiple job, usually the people who can least afford to have additional costs that they couldn't foresee," she said.

Cuyahoga County Public Library went fine free in January of 2022.

"It really gave everybody the idea that they were welcome and that we wanted them to come back and make the best use of this community resource that the entire community supports and pays for," Executive Director Tracy Strobel said.

As use of digital materials has grown, overdue fines have diminished, as digital materials are returned automatically, Fifarek, who also serves as a board member of the Ohio Library Council, said. Revenue generated from overdue fines has accounted for 0.3% or less of the Akron-Summit County Public Library's total revenue over the last four years. This is true for many libraries across the state, Fifarek said.

However, going fine free does not mean patrons no longer need to return items to the library. Patrons will still be billed for lost items and incur charges for damaged items, the Akron-Summit County Public Library said. Any item not returned within 28 days past its due date will be considered lost. When lost items are returned to the library, the bill will be forgiven.

Libraries being fine free has become a standard in Ohio, but smaller libraries without the support of local taxes may not have the luxury of doing so, Fifarek said.

"They may need the revenue they get from the overdue fines in order to keep providing basic services," she said, "so I would not want to judge any other library for not making this decision."

The impact of going fine free on the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County's patrons, however, has been significant, Fifarek said.

"We had people calling the library to thank us for making that change, that they felt comfortable using the library again," she said.

And going fine free helped the library rebound after the pandemic, Fifarek said.

"The amount of foot traffic is really up where it used to be," she said, "and I don't think that would have happened as much if we hadn't made these changes."

Cuyahoga County Public Library has seen a similar increase after going fine free, Strobel said. The library had 22% more visitors in 2023 compared to 2022.

"I think that 22% increase certainly represents many people who are challenged economically or may otherwise not be able to get the resources they can get for free at the library," she said.

Abigail Bottar covers Akron, Canton, Kent and the surrounding areas for Ideastream Public Media.