No worries if you’re a little forgetful when it comes to return a book to a library in Madison County.
That’s because the Madison County Library System no longer charges a daily fine on overdue books, movies, audiobooks, magazines and downloadable materials at any of its branches in Ridgeland, Madison, Canton, Flora or Camden.
Returning a novel a few days late means there is no fine to pay, but it’s a different matter if your dog chews a book or you totally lose one. In those situations, you’ll have to pay for a replacement book.
The idea of eliminating fines does away with the financial barrier that may keep students from getting access to books needed for schoolwork, using public computers or setting foot inside a library.
Will the Jackson/Hinds Library System follow that growing trend of eliminating fines?
It remains to be seen.
The idea of doing away with daily fines has been discussed before and Rickey Jones, chairman of the Jackson/Hinds Library System Board of Trustees, expects to bring it up again.
“I think that will definitely be something that will be encouraged from the board for the administration to take a look at,” he said. “That would help encourage people to come to the library.”
More than 500 libraries across the country have adopted fine free policies, said Tonja Johnson, director of the Madison County Library System.
The Mississippi Library Commission surveyed library systems in the state several months ago and learned that eight library systems of the 53 library systems in the state have gone fine free, while others are moving toward such by offering a fine-free week or no fines for patrons over 65, said Tracy Carr, library services at the commission.
The Covington County Library System, the Greenwood-Leflore Public Library System, Starkville-Oktibbeha Public Library System and Lamar County Library System are among those that are fine-free.
The commission has a lending library at its headquarters at 3881 Eastwood Drive in Jackson, where it offers curbside service and has never charged fines for overdue materials.
“I hope it catches on everywhere,” Carr said. “Fines are not a significant source of revenue for any library. They have not been a sustainable form of revenue.”
Johnson said fines usually generated less than half a percent of the Madison County Library System’s budget. For fiscal year 2019-2020, fines amounted to $6,000, she said.
The Madison County Library System eased into doing away with fines by extending the grace period patrons had before fines were levied, she said.
At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic fines for overdue materials were suspended because many patrons were staying at home, she said. Yet many patrons still returned the books they had checked out to the system, she said.
Studies have shown that small fines have no impact on material return rates, Johnson said. Usually when someone has a late fine, he or she is less likely to return to the library again, she said.
Libraries that have adopted fine free policies have found that library card registrations increased, the borrowing of materials increased, more library items were returned, students returned to the library to use homework resources and staff could focus more on patrons instead of handling fines, Johnson said.
The Madison County Library System will still send an email reminder two days before an item is due and on the due date and will automatically renew an item up to two times provided it is not on hold for another patron.
Materials that are 45 days overdue after their final renewal are assumed lost and patrons will be billed for the replacement cost.
Johnson said patrons are appreciative when they learn they no longer have to worry about fines.
The Madison County Library System branches in Ridgeland, Madison, Canton, Flora and Camden are fully open with masks and social distancing required. Curbside service is also available.
The system’s bookmobile is back in use and retirement homes and other organizations are beginning to request they be added to the schedule, Johnson said.
The Madison County Library System usually has about 350,000 visitors during a normal year, Johnson said. Last year, visitors amounted to about half of that due to the pandemic and restrictions that were put in place.