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Waterloo, Cedar Falls libraries scrap fines on overdue materials

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The newly renamed Friends Used Book Shop has opened at the Waterloo Public Library in Waterloo, Iowa, Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2014. The store, which raises funds for the library, is staffed entirely by volunteers and stocked completely with donations or withdrawn library materials.

The Cedar Falls and Waterloo Public Libraries are turning the page on the long-held practice of charging fines for overdue library materials.

On Jan. 1, both libraries will eliminate overdue fines on most library materials and stop collecting previously accrued overdue fines.

“We understand that life happens and that it can be difficult sometimes to return items on time to the library,” Cedar Falls Public Library Director Kelly Stern said in a release. “We also recognize that assessing monetary fines is not the most effective way to manage borrowing periods, nor is it fair to patrons with limited incomes.”

Existing fines for overdue items will be forgiven to ensure everyone can start a new chapter at their now fine-free libraries, library officials said. Fees for lost or damaged items will remain on the users account.

Under the new policy, patrons at both libraries are still encouraged to return their materials on time, with each library’s borrowing policy defining what constitutes an item as overdue. Patrons with overdue items will be blocked from checking out further items until the overdue material is renewed or returned.

“These fine-free policies will reduce barriers to access, while also including measures to protect library materials,” said Waterloo Public Library Director Nick Rossman. “Going fine-free will have such an impact on our youngest borrowers, as we currently have 30% of our patrons under the age of 18 unable to use the library because of fines. It’s so important that our youngest card holders have access and take full advantage of their library.”

Both directors recognize and endorse the trend in American libraries to go fine-free.

“This move is a win for everyone,” said Stern. “Current fine-free libraries report increased visits and circulation as well as an increase in the return of long-overdue material. And, it’s the right thing to do.”

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