County libraries go fine free

Creative displays and a puzzle are some of the reasons to drop by SLO County Branch Libraries in person (phots by Camas Frank)

ATASCADERO — As of Feb. 1 no new late fees will be racking up on library materials due back at Atascadero and other branches of the San Luis Obispo County Library system. They’ll still charge a lost item fee after a reasonable waiting period, said Regional Librarian for the North County Jackie Kinsey, but the change comes after a period of discussion on how best to serve the community, and with the understanding that fines have never been a significant revenue source for the system.

“The goal has always been to not have barriers to people’s access to library services,” she said. “Often in the past, we’ve worked with people to clear their accounts so they could come back to us.”

Under the new policy, library patrons who’ve racked up outstanding fees can simply come to the front desk at any of the 15 regional branches to have the slate wiped clean.

The change does not apply to the Paso Robles Library which is administered by the City of Paso Robles, although they have access to many of the same materials through the Black Gold Regional system which allows patrons to request materials from Santa Barbara, Santa Maria, Lompoc and Santa Paula as well as San Luis Obispo.

“I don’t know if you’ve got kids,” began San Luis Obispo Library Director Chris Barnickel, “but we’ve found that you can’t get them to do many errands on their own unless you’re driving anyway.”

Of the approximately 800 cards that had been blocked in their system due to excessive fines, the majority were taken out in the name of younger patrons, he said, noting that it was unrealistic to expect that those items would be returned as promptly, to begin with.

Across the County, there are approximately 70,000 cardholders, although that doesn’t track individual households. In years past, an amnesty period on long-overdue returned items was followed up with a food drive for fines initiative in February.

The cessation of fines is an administrative policy the library director is free to implement, he noted, although a maximum fee schedule is approved by the SLO County Board of Supervisors and posted online.

San Diego and other, larger than San Luis Obispo, systems have implemented the change already with some success, he added, noting that his year marks the centenary for the County and they’d like to be looking to the future, “Revenue on fines is not a guaranteed income, you have some accounts that will never be closed so any accounting on them was dubious. If you look at staff time and auditing it’s paying dollars to chase dimes as well.”

In the North County, Kinsey said she knew what the 11 staffers in Atascadero would rather be doing, “Hopefully, we’ll be spending that time issuing more cards or allowing us to work on free programs and events instead.”

Aside from the databases and other services accessible at the branch locations, as well as DVD collections and even games, the libraries offer things the public may not realize she added, such as passport processing, and in Atascadero, even making available a century of microfiche archives for this newspaper.

“We’re really modernizing on the Central Coast and there are still so many other things we can do and provide if you come to say ‘hello,’” Kinsey added.


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