HALLOWELL — Hubbard Free Library has joined other Maine libraries who have recently moved to eliminate fines for overdue materials.

The library had already suspended late fees in March 2020, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, primarily due to costs associated with quarantining items combined with reduced operating hours.

After the library’s board of trustees voted during a Sept. 8 meeting, the fine-free status will be permanent.

The library expects the loss of income resulting from this decision to be minimal, and will be adding a donation jar to the circulation counter for any patrons interested in supporting the library’s mission.

The library had previously charged five cents a day for late books, with a cap of $10. Prior to the pandemic, they received between $3,000 and $4,000 annually for fines from late materials.

In 2019, the American Library Association passed a similar resolution, finding that late fees create an economic barrier to accessing library materials, and that “monetary fines ultimately do not serve the core mission of the modern library.”

Kenneth Young, Hubbard Free Library’s board of trustees president, said the decision was unanimous, and was partly inspired by the ALA’s 2019 resolution.

Madigan Wynne, 5, left, Finnian Wynne 3, and their father Patrick Wynne look for books Friday at the Hubbard Free Library in Hallowell. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“It was something we mused about since then, and then (Library Director Annemarie Kromhout) advised us that this was the direction we should be going and recommended we do it,” said Young. “So we talked about it as a board and voted unanimously to go ahead with it.

“Eliminating fines for overdue materials brings the Hubbard in line with current library practices,” he added. “It brings our practices in line with our overall mission of getting residents in the door and utilizing this great resource.”

In a news release, Kromhout said the decision to eliminate fines has resulted in other libraries getting more overdue materials back.

“When patrons, especially kids from economically disadvantaged families, know they won’t be penalized for bringing a book back late,” she said in a prepared statement, “they return it rather than letting it sit at home while they stress about the fines they’re accruing. Then they check out more books, which is what we want to happen.”

Kromhout said community feedback about the decision has been positive.

In July, the Gardiner City Council voted to indefinitely suspend late fees at the request of Gardiner Public Library Director Anne Davis. The change resulted in card holders returning books in a more timely fashion.

And in August, the Farmington Public Library also eliminated fines for late items. Lewiston’s library also has eliminated fines, when the city council unanimously voted in April to approve a policy stop the practice.

Hubbard Free Library is a nonprofit supported by, but not formally affiliated with, the city of Hallowell. In August, the City Council passed a budget that provided the library with an additional $12,827 in funding, resulting in a total of $54,827 in city support annually.

Library officials had asked the city for more funding last year, as it would help them stay open longer and stay afloat amid hardships during the COVID-19 pandemic. And while the city was not able to accommodate the request for the 2020-21 budget year, a combination of factors such as increased revenue sharing from the state and a decreased local share for the school, they were able to approve more money for the library while also dropping the mill rate by $0.20 per $1,000 of assessed property value.

As a result, the library began opening five days a week on Sept. 3, bringing their total weekly hours up from 21.5 to 25.

Young said this has led to a “very positive community response.”

“Visits overall are up,” he said, “and visits on Friday are largely attributable to that increase. So the community is basically saying ‘We like the fact that the library is open, and we’re going to repay your faith in opening more hours by using the library more.’ It’s really great.”

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