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San Diego may decide to close the book on library fines

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POSTED February 25, 2018 6:00 p.m.

SAN DIEGO (AP) — San Diego may decide to join several other U.S. cities in closing the book on library fines.

Library director Misty Jones went before a City Council committee last week to lay out a plan to eliminate overdue fines for library books, DVDs and other items. She’ll present the concept to the full council in April, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.

The city’s 36-branch library system has 300,000 overdue items with a value of more than $4 million.

Currently, library patrons who owe at least $10 in fines can have their lending privileges suspended. About 174,000 people have had their accounts frozen, or more than 22 percent of all San Diego library card holders.

The city’s lower-income areas have more people with frozen accounts than wealthier areas, according to a city analysis.

But Jones said eliminating the fines may actually lead to more returns.

“This has really been a hot topic in libraries for maybe the last two years,” Jones said. “Studies have shown fines are not the best way to motivate patrons to return materials.”

“If people are late and they’re going to have a fine, a lot of times they are ashamed and never come back,” she said.

Also, the fines are costly. The city collects an average of $763,000 in fines annually but spends an estimated $1 million in staff time to handle the paperwork.

Jones wants a different approach. Her plan calls for the library to automatically check out items for 105 days. After that, people who fail to return items could have their accounts frozen but there wouldn’t be any fines. If an item isn’t returned in another 30 days, the patron would get a bill for the cost of the item.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer has endorsed the approach.

“Libraries are hubs for inspiration, discovery and opportunity that can change lives,” Faulconer said in a statement. “This new model encourages patrons to renew, return or replace materials they borrow and allow continued access to library services for San Diegans who need them the most.”

Nashville, Salt Lake City and Columbus, Ohio already have eliminated library fines. In December, Los Angeles did away with fines for people under age 21.

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