- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 5, 2012

City residents no longer have to worry about scrambling to return library books the day they are due.

The D.C. Public Library has announced that starting Friday, its 25 branches will stop charging daily late fines for overdue items.

Instead, patrons will be penalized after 30 days. At that point, the library will charge a “long overdue” fee of $5. After 60 days it will impose a “lost or damaged” fee ranging from $8 to $20.

The library previously charged 20 cents per day for late books and CDs and $1 a day for late DVDs.

Officials said the change is meant to keep people from feeling they cannot use the library if they have not returned their books, CDs or DVDs on time.

“If a book is kept past its due date, the new fees make it easier for people to know what they owe without penalizing them so harshly that they don’t want to visit the library,” said Ginnie Cooper, chief librarian of the District, in a statement last week about the change.

Library spokesman George Williams said officials learned that late fines kept some people from wanting to visit the library. Parents of children who had checked out books particularly dreaded the fines, he said.

The decision to get rid of the daily fines stemmed from the same philosophy that prompted library officials to hold an “amnesty campaign” from Dec. 5 through Feb. 5. Patrons could return any books, regardless of when they had been checked out, fine-free, Mr. Williams said.

Members of the library’s board of trustees voted to do away with the previous late-fee structure at their Jan. 25 meeting. Supporters of the proposal argued that the amnesty program had been successful in getting materials returned to libraries and more people visiting them.

“What the new fee policy does is make it simpler,” Mr. Williams said. “If people feel like they can’t use the library, then we are not serving them.”

The Baltimore County Public Library system charges 25 cents per day for late books and CDs and $1 a day for DVDs. The total amount a patron could end up paying for late books is $8 for books and CDs and $12 for DVDs.

In Arlington County, library officials charge more. Patrons pay 30 cents per day for late books and CDs and $1 per day for late DVDs, with lesser rates for juvenile and young-adult items.

The funds the D.C. Public Library branches receive from fines go into a central “revenue fund” where they are used for various library expenses rather than each branch keeping what it collects, Mr. Williams said.

The library’s proposed fiscal 2013 operating budget is up $4.5 million from last year, from about $36.5 million to $41 million. But the fiscal 2012 budget was nearly $2 million less than it had been in 2011.

Receiving less revenue from visitors’ late fees should not impact branches’ operating costs or construction progress, Mr. Williams said.