NORTH ADAMS — In recent weeks, people were able to sit in the North Adams Public Library and read books or use the computers for the first time since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. As COVID-19 restrictions ease, there is one policy that is here to stay: no more late fees.
During the pandemic, fees were waived, and the library’s board of trustees decided recently to keep it that way, Library Director Sarah Sanfilippo said.
“It’s a growing trend nationwide,” she said. “It’s something libraries around the country have realized is not super effective in getting people to return things. It’s kind of punitive. ... What happens if your car breaks down? Or you have to take care of your grandkids?” she said.
“It seems to affect people who don’t have the means to get here as easy as other people. It’s not an equitable way to do things.”
About 90 libraries in the Central and Western Massachusetts library system do not charge late fees, according to Sanfilippo, and she does not expect that the policy change will result in a significant loss of money for the library.
In fiscal years 2018 and 2019, the library collected about $3,000 in fines annually, she said. When the library started automatically renewing materials for people, rather than requiring patrons to request a renewal, fines then dropped by about half, according to Sanfilippo.
“That kind of tells me people were not keeping things on purpose,” she said.
What are the new rules?
“To be clear, you can’t keep something forever,” Sanfilippo said. “If you keep it over a month past the last due date, we will send a bill. Then, if you return it, the bill will go away.”
The new policy only applies to North Adams Public Library items, not materials that belong to other libraries in the Central and Western Massachusetts library network that charge late fees.
Overdue fines still will apply for museum passes because they are in high demand, Sanfilippo said. “We need them back quickly, just so that other people can enjoy them.”