Eau Claire County libraries go fine-free

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Eau Claire Country, Wis. (WEAU) -- If you haven't been to the public libraries in Eau Claire County recently, you may want to.

Libraries in Eau Claire, Altoona, Fall Creek and Augusta have all gone fine-free.

Before, if someone didn't return a book on time, they would acquire late fees. For libraries in Eau Claire County, that is no longer the case.
The libraries in Eau Claire, Altoona, Fall Creek and Augusta have all gone fine free. That means if you're late returning a book the fee is waived, as long as it does get returned.

Late fees used to be a deterrent from going back to the library, but now late fees are a thing of the past. The decision not only helps both customers, but the libraries themselves.

Alyson Jones is the Altoona Public Library Director. She said the decision to go fine-free was well researched.

"We take going fine free seriously. We spent 15 months actively analyzed going fine free,” she said. “We feel like it is the right moves for us and it's the right time to do it."

Paula Stanton is the L.E. Phillip’s Memorial Library Circulation Director. She said fees do not always mean people will bring their books back.

"We decided to go fines free because there is an increasing trend in the library world to eliminate fines because they do not provide an adequate incentive for people to return their materials."

Stanton said in the year and a half the Eau Claire library has been fine free, it has seen an increase in customers.

"Since going fine free, we've seen a 6.8% increases in circulations. Which I’m really excited about, that's really positive for a public library to see such an increase.”

In Altoona, the library sees about eleven thousand visitors a month from across the Chippewa Valley during this time of year. Jones said in the first day of becoming fine free, a long overdue book was returned.

“Just this morning, we got a book back that was 52 days overdue. I don't think it's a coincidence that we got it back the day we went fine free."

Eliminating overdue fees also helps the libraries keep books on their shelves.

"By forgoing that $5 fine, we get back that $25 dollar book,” said Jones. “We don’t have to replace that item."

In Eau Claire, Stanton says books are being returned on time even without late fees

"An important thing to keep in mind with fines free is that we are not seeing an increase in overdue material."

Keeping books on the shelves and saving money is important for parents like Valerie Hammett.

Valerie Hammett is Altoona Public Library customer. She said it can be a challenge sometimes to get to the library, but reading is important for her kids.

"Sometimes it's hard to get to the library on time or remember when your books were checked out, I appreciate that they're going fine free,” she said. "I want my kids to read as much as possible and during in the summer they have other things to do instead of watching TV or playing video games."

In 2018, less than one percent of Altoona Public Library's revenue came from late fees.

"We wanted to create economic equity in the library and provide customers a way to use the library completely free," said Stanton.

In West-Central Wisconsin there are 50 libraries in a consortium, meaning if someone gets a book from one library, they can return it to any library in that system. The program offers more than 1.4 million items that can be sent to a participating library.