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Fines eliminated for belated book returns at Harrison library

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Fines eliminated for belated book returns at Harrison library

Anyone who likes to take their time to savor a good book from the Community Library of Allegheny Valley in Harrison can now return it after the due date without repercussion.

The site on May 1 announced it is fine-free.

“We are committed to serving our community in the best way possible as a free, public service,” said Suzy Ruskin, director of the library at 1522 Broadview Blvd.

“A core mission of libraries is to provide equitable service to all of our residents.”

Fines can be a deterrent to using the library, she said, and added that she wants to ensure the library is accessible to all members of the community.

To do that, the library is removing barriers for everyone, including those who may have “transportation issues, work multiple jobs, have unstable housing or just have limited time to visit the library.”

Ruskin said it does not hurt the library’s bottom line since overdue material fines accounted for only a negligible part of the overall budget.

Following a trend

The initiative is part of a national trend of eliminating library fines.

The Allegheny County Library Association in 2019 piloted the program in nine of its member libraries, including Millvale, Monroeville and Penn Hills.

The move quickly led to increased circulation and registrations of new patrons, leaders said.

Since November 2019, total circulation in seven of the nine initial participating libraries has increased by nearly 14%, according to the ACLA website.

Library card registrations also climbed 15% in the first three months after fines were eliminated at these sites.

“Fines can present a significant barrier for a segment of parents and children, making them reluctant to return to their local library,” said ACLA Executive Director Marilyn Jenkins. “This is counter to the primary goal of all of our libraries to encourage participation in library programs and access to the many services offered.”

Patrons at fine-free libraries still are responsible for the cost of replacing a lost book.

Libraries in Fox Chapel and Sharpsburg recently joined the fine-free movement as well.

Jill McConnell, executive director of the Cooper-Siegel Community Library in Fox Chapel, said fines have historically and disproportionately had a negative effect on people who need library services the most.

“We decided to remove that barrier,” McConnell said.

The Sharpsburg Community Library is a branch of Cooper-Siegel. It also announced that money would no longer be owed by patrons late on returning materials to the site along Main Street.

It’s too early for data to support how the change has affected the number of people who use the library, McConnell said.

But, she wanted to be at the forefront of a change that she believes is inevitable.

“As more and more libraries decide to go fine-free, I believe that late fines will be a thing of the past for public libraries,” she said.

McConnell added that automatic renewals were implemented in February, contributing to a drop in income from fines.

“It really was not worth it to hold onto that practice when it ceased to be a meaningful revenue stream,” she said.

Tawnya Panizzi is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tawnya at 724-226-7726, tpanizzi@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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