Karin Tuuri reads a book with her son, Uku, at the Lewiston Public Library in February before checking them out. While they don’t have any overdue books, Tuuri was thrilled to hear an anonymous donor paid for all outstanding fines. The City Council approved policy changes Tuesday that will do away with fines for overdue books starting July 1. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal file Buy this Photo

LEWISTON — Fines for overdue library books in Lewiston will become a thing of the past starting July 1.

Following months of talks, an unanimous City Council vote Tuesday approved policy changes that will eliminate the collection of overdue fines, which library officials have said create a barrier to library access in the community.

Library Director Marcela Peres said Tuesday that removing the fines is “largely seen as an equity issue for the community.”

During previous workshops, she told the council that the policy has a disproportionate impact on youth and low-income families and eliminating fines has led to increases in library patronage in other communities.

Currently, the library begins charging 10 cents per day for books and $1 per day for audio/visual items after an amnesty period of seven days past the due date. Accruing charges of $5 or more on a library account results in a block from checking out materials or using computers, including for schoolwork or job searching.

The City Council — and the broader community — has been largely supportive of the plan since it was initially proposed.

A few weeks after Peres shared details that nearly one-third of the library’s 625 blocked accounts belonged to children or teenagers, the library received an anonymous donation. It was more than what was owed in overdue fines on child and teen library cards, meaning any funds left over would go toward any fines issued until the policy takes effect in July.

Peres told the council that once the policy changes, it will also reopen access to hundreds of adults.

Peres has said that eliminating overdue fines would not change the borrower’s responsibility to return library materials. Borrowers still receive multiple overdue notices, and if an item is six weeks overdue, they are sent a bill for the replacement cost.

In 2019, the American Library Association passed a resolution urging libraries to scrutinize the practice of imposing fines, stating it “creates a barrier to the provision of library and information services.”

Library officials have said there is mounting evidence that scrapping fines results in more library use, and more items returned.

A letter from the library board of trustees said “fines distract from our mission, depress library patronage, and fail to deter bad behavior.”

Peres said Lewiston officials have also been working with the Auburn Public Library, which is considering a similar change to remove fines.

However, according to Auburn library staff, that decision has not been made official yet.

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