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Wauwatosa Library no longer collecting late fees; viewed as an economic barrier

Tosa officials explained in a statement that their own research shows fines "do not have any impact" on return rates.
wauwatosa library
Posted at 10:40 AM, Jan 04, 2023

WAUWATOSA, Wis. — The Wauwatosa Public Library is no longer collecting overdue fines for 'young adult' and 'adult' materials, the city announced Wednesday, in an effort to make their materials more accessible for more people.

Effective Jan. 1, 2023, people are no longer being fined for late materials, and existing overdue fines are being waived for items returned late. People will still be charged for materials not returned, and if you have not returned an item, you will not be able to check out new items. The library will still send out reminders about when your materials are due.

"I think that’s actually really great because it doesn’t discourage people from checking out maybe more books than they would," Marie Rugowski said.

"So wonderful. I can remember as a kid getting fines up to my parents dismay then not wanting to come to the library," said Nicole Miller, another library user.

Wauwatosa officials explained in a statement that their own research shows fines "do not have any impact" on return rates. The city also cites a 2019 American Library Association resolution that found fines are an economic barrier to access to library services and materials.

The city already removed fines for children's materials starting in 2019. Officials say since getting rid of fines for children's materials, they have actually seen an increase in people checking out children's materials. "We believe a significant part of this success was due to the elimination of fines," according to their news release.

Rugowski and her 4-year-old son Avi check out plenty of children's books every week. Rugowski has noticed how helpful it has been to not worry about overdue fines.

"Always nice because when you get a lot of them you sometimes forget one or two of them when you return them," Rugowski said.

"What we hope to see this is just a greater engagement with the community. The libraries have a wealth of information available for the community and it is their library and we want to make it as easy as possible for them to use it," said Peter Loeffel, library director for Wauwatosa.

Wauwatosa officials add that:

  • their library ranked 5th in 'circulated items' in Wisconsin
  • their children's department is the 3rd highest circulated in the state
  • if their children's library was a separate library, it would rank 23 in circulation in the state
  • the number of items checked out from Tosa's library exceeded the total number of items checked out from any suburban library in Milwaukee County, according to the Wauwatosa Library.

The city also says that getting rid of overdue fines on young adults and adult materials actually adds $24,000 per year to the library's portion of the city budget.

According to a 2019 NPR report, in the past libraries relied on fines to stop customers from returning books late. But now, a rising number of the country's largest libraries are getting rid of fines. They found that the fines were driving people away from using the great resources libraries provide.

Closer to home, the Chicago Public Library found around 30% of people living on the South Side of Chicago could not check out books and other items because they had reached the $10 fine limit for overdue materials.

But the city of Chicago found that that ratio dropped about 15% on the wealthier north side of the city. About a quarter of blocked accounts belonged to children under 14, the city found, according to NPR.

Read Wauwatosa's announcement below:

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