Shayla Lee, 12, of Lewiston reads “Shh! Bears Sleeping” earlier this month to her 4-year-old brother, Cameron, while her older brother, Collin, 9, reads a book at the Lewiston Public Library. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

LEWISTON — It’s been about six months since the Lewiston Public Library eliminated overdue fines for customers, and so far so good, library staff said this week.

While COVID-19 has virtually eliminated the library’s chances of gathering reliable data on the impact so far, there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence, said Director Marcela Peres.

“With the end to late fees, we’re getting items returned and maintaining a positive relationship with the community,” she said. “This only adds to our goals to nurture and encourage a community of readers and learners. People want to use the library, and believe that we want to help them, not make them feel bad when life happens.”

The City Council approved dropping the fees in April after the library’s board of directors supported the move. Eliminating the fines is part of a national shift by libraries to enhance accessibility and increase patronage.

Peres said so far the library has only heard positive feedback.

“I have seen many scenarios where someone writes to us apologizing profusely, because a major life event meant they had a book longer than expected,” she said. “They always express relief when we tell them that as long as the book is returned, they’re all set — no late fines as a penalty.”


She said in the past, interactions with patrons would sometimes be “tinged with shame and guilt” because of the fines.

When Peres asked the library’s lending staff for their thoughts, they said phone calls with customers about item returns are now positive.

“People seem excited and grateful when they call to renew books and ask about late fees, (and) we respond there won’t be any,” one staffer said.

Peres said due to the pandemic, however, it will likely be a few years before library officials understand the full effect of the decision. The library recently closed its doors — again — due to COVID-19.

During it all, the library is also still seeing some good Samaritans helping out.

While the late fees were eliminated, customer accounts can still be blocked due to unreturned items. After a certain point, the patron will receive a bill for the item so the library can purchase a replacement. Peres said that unfortunately, that sometimes applies to child and teen accounts, where a bill would go to the parent or guardian.

“We recently had an instance of a private resident donating to clear the replacement costs for an entire classroom of students,” she said. “This kind of generosity is so appreciated.”

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