Richland Library 2019

Photo courtesy Richland Library

Overdue books? Late DVDs? No problem, says Richland Library — not anymore.

Starting June 12, overdue materials will no longer accrue fines, the library announced Wednesday morning.

And according to the library, nearly 70,000 users will have their overdue fines eliminated, and more than 23,000 whose accounts were blocked due to overdue fines can again borrow materials.

Library spokesperson Emily Stoll tells Free Times the change in policy will cost the library about $100,000 a year.

"We want to stress these numbers are estimates because we can’t determine with certainty who will and won’t pay their overdue fines," Stoll said.

The library's 2017-18 budget was about $26.7 million, according to Richland County documents. According to the latest County Council figures, the projected 2020 budget for the library is $29.4 million.

Richland Library stopped fining users for late children's materials in 2015, and ended fines on teens' materials in 2016. The latest move applies to the remainder of its collection. It joins Charleston County as the second library system in the state to eliminate late fees.

In a June 12 email to patrons, the library said it is "putting the mission of the library first by encouraging current and past customers to use the resources, services and programs we offer — without the fear of fines."

And in a press release, Richland Library Chief Program and Innovation Officer Tony Tallent said the move is "focused on access and equity."

"By going fine free, we hope to encourage prior customers to come back to the library and attract new customers to experience what we have to offer — without worrying about overdue fines," he said.

Critics of overdue fines call them regressive, as they tend to prevent those with the least means from using the library, undercutting libraries' mission to serve everyone. And according to a 2017 Slate article, research suggests fines don't even encourage people to return materials on time, so they're not particularly effective, either.

Richland Library is still urging patrons to renew or return items on their due dates, and will send reminders about due dates. The library will also charge replacement fees for lost or damaged items, per its email to patrons.

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