In a major milestone, Johnson County Library is no longer assessing daily fines for overdue materials. Patrons checking out books, DVDs or other materials from any of our 14 branches no longer have to worry about the assessment of a fine for items returned after their due date. In addition, existing overdue fines will be automatically waived over the next week, along with fees older than seven years.
After asking staff to explore the impact of going fine-free at their fall 2022 Board retreat, the Johnson County Library Board voted at their April 13 meeting to approve recommendations from Library staff to no longer assess or collect overdue fines. With this new policy, Johnson County joins in a nationwide trend of Libraries going fine-free.
It’s all about improving access and removing barriers that might keep our community from taking advantage of everything the Library has to offer.
“We know there’s an opportunity to bring people back to the Library who aren’t using it because they are concerned about accruing fines,” said Elissa Andre, External Communication Manager for Johnson County Library. “We also frequently hear stories from patrons who felt so guilty about a long-ago fine, they hadn’t been back in decades. So this is a huge opportunity to make the Library a more welcoming place.”
In deciding to go fine free, Johnson County Library joins other regional systems including Kansas City, Missouri and Kansas City, Kansas, as well as Lawrence, North Kansas City, St. Joseph, Topeka, and Wichita.
Circulation Manager Michelle Olsen told the Library Board that eliminating the fine, formerly 30 cents per day per book, makes the Library even more inviting.
“We know that sometimes fines can be seen by patrons as an impediment, a reason why they’re not coming into the Library,” she said. “Our 30-cents per day fine [was] the highest in the metro, so we really want to make sure our patrons are getting experiences of other Library systems, like those in and around our community, that have gone fine-free.”
This policy change has had very positive outcomes in other Libraries. It sometimes results in increased patron visits and circulation. Data show it does not result in longer wait lists or a big increase of overdue materials.
“What a lot of libraries found is that books were actually coming back in faster. The same with other materials, such as games and movies,” said Nancy Birmingham, an assistant branch manager working with the team of staff and administrators who put together the recommendation. She explained that when fines are imposed, people sometimes procrastinate on returning materials even longer because they don’t want to deal with that overdue cost.
Johnson County Library’s revenue from fines has declined every year since 2014. For several years, the Library has sent regular due date reminders, which dramatically improved on-time returns. After accounting for staff time spent assessing and collecting fines, actual revenue totaled only about $79,000 in 2022. That is less than 1% of the Library’s total budget, and that revenue reduction will not affect Library services.
Birmingham said eliminating fines will also relieve the staff time spent dealing with patron questions and concerns about those charges, freeing up time for more positive interactions.
Patrons should know, however, that the Library will still charge fees for lost or damaged items. Items more than 30 days overdue will have a lost item fee assessed until the item is returned. And checkout periods have not changed; materials will still have due dates, with reminders to keep patrons on track.
This is a chance for the Library to welcome people back with open arms, Andre said. “Come rediscover the Library. We have no more fines. And we have this amazing suite of resources you can unlock with your Library card.”
Our staff are ready to help you understand what this change means for you – visit one of our 14 branches, call us at 913-826-4600, or read our FAQ at jocolibrary.org/finefree to learn more.