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Big changes coming to Pasco libraries

Currently 39,000 people, including 9,000 kids, can’t borrow materials because of too many fines.
Pasco County plans to eliminate the late fees for overdue books. The change is effective Feb. 10, 2020.

DADE CITY — Library patrons will have more time to finish that next novel from Elin Hildebrand, John Grisham, Stephen King or anybody else, for that matter.

Following a national trend, Pasco County is doing away with late fees for overdue books. Pasco County commissioners blessed the new policy Tuesday morning in Dade City.

The change, effective Feb. 10, follows the lead of nearly 400 library systems across the country, including in Hillsborough, Sarasota, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties, all of which eliminated late fees.

Besides waiving future fines, Pasco County also will hold a 30-day amnesty period through March 10, in which patrons can return overdue materials without financial penalty. They still are responsible for lost or damaged materials.

Part of the reason is dollars and cents.

"It costs us more to collect these fines than what we actually collect in revenue,'' said Nancy Fredericks, Pasco’s libraries administrator.

Indeed. The library system spends more than $386,000 in annual salaries and benefits for front-line and fiscal staff employees to manage a fine-collection process that brings in less than $68,000.

"That’s an important number for the public to know,'' said Commission Chairman Mike Moore.

Fine amounts also are declining as more patrons turn to digital resources that do not carry potential overdue fines, according to a Jan. 13 memo to commissioners from Fredericks.

But a more benevolent justifications exists. The fine system disproportionately affects children and people with limited resources.

The library charges 25 cents per day for each overdue material. Patrons are not allowed to continue borrowing if their account accrues $5 in fines. Right now, more than 9,000 children are suspended from borrowing in Pasco because of accumulated fines. In total, Pasco has just more than 249,000 card holders, and 39,000, or 16 percent, are blocked from borrowing.

Last year, the American Library Association called overdue fines "a form of social inequity'' and urged libraries to try to eliminate them.

Fredericks told commissioners that eliminating fines elsewhere resulted in increased library card registrations, borrowed materials and returned items. Additionally, more students returned to libraries to use homework resources, and library staffers were able to provide more customer-focused services instead of handling fines.

The new policy carries one more caveat. Borrowed materials automatically will be renewed, up to five times, on their due date if nobody else has requested the material.

The policy applies to all county library branches and the city of Zephyrhills, which is part of the county’s library cooperative. It does not include the city of New Port Richey library.

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