• Title

  • Jefferson County Public Library Announces Elimination of Overdue Fines

    Madison, IN, June 25, 2020 – Fine Free Zone

    On July 1, 2020, the Jefferson County Public Library will be fine free. The library is eliminating
    fines charged for overdue materials. “Our mission is to provide the opportunity for the use of
    materials and services by our community. Overdue fines impede our efforts and actually
    prevent people from using the library,” said Library Director Judi Terpening.

    The community needs the library now more than ever. According to the Indiana Department
    of Labor, in April, the unemployment rate for Jefferson County was 21.9%. Out of Indiana’s 92
    counties, Jefferson County ranked 13th for highest unemployment rate. Historically, library
    usage increases during periods of economic downturn. Visitors use library resources for a
    variety of purposes, which include applying for jobs, registering for unemployment and other
    benefits, obtaining assistance with resume writing, using document services, and accessing the
    internet. They can also check out books, music, magazines, and movies that they might
    otherwise have to buy. Overdue fines create an unnecessary barrier at a time when residents
    are facing financial hardship.

    “Implementing a fine-free policy is just one example of the many ways Judi and her staff have
    responded to the changing needs of our community. The board commends them for their
    commitment to making our libraries accessible and welcoming to all,” said Mary Kay Butler,
    president of the Jefferson County Public Library Board of Trustees.

    Public libraries in Indiana and across the nation have made the decision to go fine free. In the
    2018 Indiana Public Libraries Report, 25 libraries were listed as fine free, including nearby New
    Albany-Floyd County, Bartholomew County, and Charlestown-Clark County public libraries.
    Several others in Indiana have joined the ranks since, including Harrison County, Elkhart County,
    Morgan County, Monroe County, and Bedford (IN) public libraries. Across the nation, large
    metropolitan libraries like Chicago, Seattle, Boise, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Toledo, and others
    make the list of fine free public libraries.

    “Jefferson County Public Library joins the growing number of libraries, both public and
    academic, who are eliminating overdue fines. These fines can be a deterrent for some patrons,
    who may be reluctant to return to their library. Fines are a tiny fraction of revenues collected
    by the library and serve little purpose besides alienating the very folks they serve,” said Board
    Member Kelly Joyce, director of Duggan Library at Hanover College. “Public libraries serve as a
    source of information and enjoyment for all community residents, and accumulation of fines
    places an undue burden on the low income and disenfranchised, who rely on the library.”

    Overdue fines were originally meant to encourage patrons to return materials on time. In
    reality, many patrons are embarrassed by the fines or simply cannot pay them, so they don’t
    return the items or visit the library at all. In her research of fine free libraries, Terpening found
    several recurring themes. All libraries reported that staff and patrons were much happier which
    in turn improved customer service. Freewill donations and circulation of materials increased.
    And several libraries experienced an influx of returned items.

    “During stage one of the public health emergency, the library extended due dates and stopped
    charging overdue fines. It turned out to be an opportune time to see the effect of eliminating
    fines. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Patrons were relieved to discover that the
    library was supporting them,” Terpening said. “We felt that it was time to extend the benefits
    of a fine free policy to our community.”

    Eliminating fines does not eliminate responsibility. In a fine free system, patrons are still
    responsible to return library materials. If an item is 28 days overdue, it is considered lost. At
    that time, the replacement cost and processing fee are charged to the patron’s account.
    Patrons can clear their accounts by returning the items.

    It’s fiscally responsible. Due to the rise in the use of electronic materials, such as eBooks, which
    do not accrue late fines, fines are not a sustainable form of revenue for the library. In 2019, the
    revenue from overdue fines constituted about one-third of one percent of the library’s
    operating budget. The cost of collecting the overdue fines in staff time and the use of collection
    agencies is higher than the miniscule income recovered.

    Patrons can still donate to the Library. Some patrons consider payment of their overdue fines
    as a way to support the library. Donations are still accepted and encouraged. They can be made
    in person or through several different options online at http://www.mjcpl.org/donate.

    Welcome back. Patron Services Coordinator Jess McAlister is looking forward to welcoming
    new patrons. “I am so excited and hopeful that being fine free will bring old patrons back to
    visit and encourage new ones to try the library knowing there are no barriers. We want
    everyone to be able to enjoy the library, and this is another step to make sure the community

    For more information about the library, check out the website at www.mjcpl.org or call 812-

    Jefferson County Public Library was founded in 1818 and serves the community with
    opportunities to obtain and use information in a variety of formats, to pursue lifelong learning,
    to explore recreational interests, and to better understand personal and regional heritage. In
    addition to books and movies, the Library offers community meeting spaces, cultural and
    educational programs, entertainment, one-on-one computer assistance, outreach services to
    homebound and children, genealogy and local history research assistance, early literacy
    programs and reading and viewing suggestions. Libraries are located in Madison and Hanover,

    Ann Inman
    Programming Coordinator