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Somerset County Library Knocks Out Fines

Beginning September 1, the Somerset County Library will join a growing number of libraries that do not charge fines for overdue materials.

After reviewing data from peer libraries, the Somerset County Library will become one of five "fine-free" systems in Maryland. As a critical resource for low-income families, there is growing awareness in the library profession that fines present a barrier to access these resources, particularly for children. A study from the Institute for Museum and Library Services study showing that many parents and caregivers, even library users, didn't let their children check out books because they didn't want to risk late fines and were afraid they wouldn't be able to return them in time - whether because of work schedules, mobility issues, or lack of reliable transportation.

With increased usage of ebooks, library computers and internet access, as well as educational classes offered by the library, overdue fines represent a unique deterrent on library patrons using paper books. By removing fines, the Somerset County Library furthers its mission to be every person's place to explore, learn, dream, and become.

Stop by your local library for National Library Card Sign-Up Month in September to learn about the world of possibilities unlocked through the books, movies, online resources, educational classes, and craft programs that the libraries have to offer.

FAQs

Why did Somerset County Library eliminate fines?

The mission of the Somerset County Library is to be every person's place to explore, learn, dream, and become. As a critical resource for low-income families, there is growing awareness in the library profession that fines present a barrier to access these resources, particularly for children. Going fine-free is a growing trend in American libraries, and Somerset County is now one of five systems in Maryland without fines.

The Institute for Museum and Library Services' Project SPELL (Supporting Parents in Early Literacy through Libraries) found that many parents and caregivers said that, while they used the library, they didn't let their children check out books because they didn't want to risk late fines and were afraid they wouldn't be able to return them in time - whether because of work schedules, mobility issues, or lack of reliable transportation.

With increased usage of ebooks, library computers and internet connections, and educational classes offered by the library, overdue fines represent a unique deterrent on library patrons using paper books. In addition, late fees can also backfire, as patrons who can't afford to pay the accumulated fines may decide not to return a book at all.

So if I don't return an item, I won't get charged?

Not exactly. Once an item is four weeks overdue, your account will be charged the replacement cost of the item, plus a processing fee. These charges will be waived when the item is returned.

Your card will not be usable until the late item is returned or the charges are paid.

Will you let me know that my item is overdue?

For patrons with email addresses on file, a notice will be sent when an item becomes due, and reminders will be sent one week, two weeks, and three weeks later.

You can also log into your account to check the status of your items.

What if I want an item that another customer has overdue?

We recommend that you place a hold on the item, which will prevent the item from being renewed.

Other libraries that have gone fine-free have not seen a significant increase in the number of materials returned late (some have even seen decreases) or in wait times on their holds lists.

I have overdue fines from before September 1. Do I still have to pay them?

No. Most pre-existing fines have been automatically removed, and staff can waive any fines that remain. Charges for items that were lost or were damaged will not be waived.

What about fines from other libraries?

Somerset, Caroline, and Queen Anne's Counties are now fine-free. Fine policies in the Eastern Shore Library Consortium are based on the location from which you check the item out. If the item was sent to you at a Somerset County Library through the interlibrary delivery system, it will not incur fines. If you travelled to another county to check out the item, that library's rules are applicable.

How do I know if I have any charges on my account?

You can log into your account or ask at the library.

I didn't really lose the items on my account. Can I still bring them back?

Yes! If they are still in good condition, bring them back and the replacement costs and processing fees will be waived.

I lost my card a long time ago. How do I know if I have an account?

Visit your nearest library location, and the staff will see if you are in the system. Bring a photo ID and something that verifies residency, such as a piece of mail.

Is the library going to lose money by not collecting fines?

Fine receipts are less than 0.2% of the Somerset County Library's annual budget, less than $4 per day, and with growing ebook checkouts and attendance at library programs, fines disproportionately punish users who read print books.

History has shown that many people stop using the library altogether rather than pay fines and dissuade their children from using the library for fear of incurring fines.