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Great Barrington libraries are about to stop issuing fines for late book returns

Christine Warner and Samara Klein in library

Mason Library Circulation Supervisor Christine Warner, left, and Library Director Samara Klein have won approval from the Great Barrington Select Board to eliminate late fees, starting in May.

GREAT BARRINGTON — Beginning May 1, both the Mason and Ramsdell libraries no longer will fine patrons for loaned items, including books, returned less than four weeks past the due date.

There will be amnesty periods of about a month in which people can return overdue items without any consequence.

But even after the new policy goes into effect, people will be charged a replacement fee for books returned 28 days or more after their due date. Their accounts will also be blocked.

The Mason Library on Main Street and The Ramsdell Library in Housatonic will be joining surrounding towns that already have gone fine-free. Those include Sheffield, Pittsfield, Monterey and New Marlborough. Pittsfield eliminated fines last year; Adams and North Adams did away with them in 2021.

Library Director Samara Klein and Adult Circulation Supervisor Christine Warner proposed the new policy to the Select Board on Feb. 27.

The board agreed unanimously.

Warner said policy is a way to eradicate an inequity that often hinges on as little as $10, the fine amount that now blocks an account.

“It’s a barrier to knowledge, it’s a barrier to families who can’t afford these fines,” Warner said. “In the seven years I’ve been working at the library, I’ve seen firsthand what these fines can do to families. They come in embarrassed. There’s such a stigma attached.”

Warner said that in 2019 the American Library Association declared monetary fines are “a form of social inequality.”

Books are available to borrow for three weeks with automatic renewal of another three weeks.

The libraries also lends passes to area museums, as well as hotspots for free Wi-fi internet access. The library will mark them lost after 24 hours but expunge fees if returned.

Klein said that in other parts of the country, going fine-free appears to be working. “In many communities that have done this across America ... they see a lot of patrons coming back,” Klein said.

Chicago, for instance, had a 240 percent increase in return of materials within three weeks after eliminating fines, according to an NPR report from 2019. There were also 400 more library card renewals compared with the same time the previous year.

Director Klein said fine and replacement revenue last year was $3,555. The library wasn’t able to differentiate between fines and replacements, but estimates that fines generated about $1,800.

Fines for overdue books are 10 cents per day.

The library will soon post its changes to its website.

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or 413-329-6871.

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