Dearborn-area Public Libraries Go Fine Free

Student at Henry Ford College Eshleman Library courtesy HFC Marketing
Student at Henry Ford College Eshleman Library courtesy HFC Marketing

As of January 2022, all branches of Dearborn and Dearborn Heights public libraries have gone fine free. Several libraries across the United States have already gone fine free or are in the process of eliminating fines. This comes after the American Library Association publicly declared overdue fines in public libraries as “a form of social inequity” in January of 2019.

Library fines are often issued to those who can least afford them. The San Diego Public Library in San Diego, California found that “nearly half of the library’s patrons whose accounts were blocked as a result of late fees lived in two of the city’s poorest neighborhoods.” People who are not financially secure are the least likely to have the free time or the reliable transportation to visit the library in person when needed, and accumulating late fees discourages them from visiting the library again. “Studies show that patrons are less likely to use the library if they have items that are overdue and feel they are going to be punished when they bring them back,” says Carolyn Smith, Branch Librarian at John F. Kennedy Jr. Library in Dearborn Heights.

The benefits of going fine free have far outweighed the drawbacks for local libraries. Not only are patrons no longer discouraged from using their local library due to owing late fees, but they are motivated to return lost materials that have since been found. “We are seeing more and more ‘lost’ items being returned since patrons are no longer being penalized for bringing them back late,” says Smith. “This puts items back on the shelves and keeps our spending budget down since we no longer need to replace these items.” Despite concerns that a lack of late fines will encourage patrons to keep materials well past their due dates, this has not been found to be an issue. “There is still an expectation that checked-out items will be returned by their due date and studies have shown that, for the most part, people do return items in a timely manner,” says Julie Schaefer, Deputy Library Director at Dearborn Public Library.

Local librarians believed that going fine free was the best decision for their community for a variety of reasons. Jill Wioskowski, Marketing Librarian at Dearborn Heights City Libraries, says, “We wanted to remove barriers for people accessing the library. It goes against the very nature of a library; libraries are supposed to be for everyone.”

The decision to eliminate late fines in the city of Dearborn’s libraries was catalyzed by the election of Mayor Abdullah Hammoud in November. “Mayor Hammoud has been a proponent of making the libraries and all of its materials more easily accessible to all residents,” says Schaefer. “Offering a system without fines takes away a financial burden for many families.”

The majority of libraries across Southeast Michigan put a pause on the collection of fines at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and many of them simply did not resume collections once operations went back to being in person. “I think libraries finally realized that the small amount we received from overdue books never justified charging it,” says Smith.

Local libraries have found a variety of ways to accommodate COVID-19 safety measures. Curbside pickup and home delivery services have proven to be a helpful tool for patrons in Dearborn Heights who are unable to physically visit their local library. Dearborn Public Library offers a similar service, Shelf Help, where patrons may fill out an online form to request items be ready for them to check out when they arrive at the building. “This service not only saves a patron’s time, but also utilizes an excellent resource –staff knowledge of the very large library collection,” says Schaefer.

Dearborn and Dearborn Heights libraries also allow access to several virtual media collections. Patrons can virtually check out books and movies through digital platforms such as Libby, Hoopla, and Kanopy.

Henry Ford College’s Eshleman Library also has plans to go fine free. While fines for overdue materials from the campus library have not been collected since March 2020, the library hopes to go permanently fine free sometime in 2022.

With select courses being held in person for the Winter 2022 semester, many HFC students have been wondering whether the Eshleman Library has re-opened. The Eshleman Library in building “B” is offering walk-in services as of Winter 2022. The library is also offering remote access to its resources. “Students may not know that HFC Librarians offer live, online chat 56.5 hours per week,” says HFC Director of Library and Academic Support Services Kate Harger. “Students can also text us questions during our online hours. And, when we’re not online, we’ve set up an automated response for email and text questions that links students to an online guide that provides answers to all of our frequently asked questions (including library barcodes). So, students get an immediate answer, even at 3:00a.m.”

Much like the area’s public libraries, HFC students have access to a wide variety of online resources at the Eshleman Library. “Students also may not realize that we have over 140 online databases – we offer something to support every research assignment students may have at HFC,” says Harger. “Within those databases are articles, eBooks, videos, and more. The HFC Librarians have also created some amazing online library guides (LibGuides) for many of the programs/courses at HFC.”

Many HFC students are taking classes on campus for the first time this semester and have never visited the school’s library. There are even students close to graduation who have never set foot in the library due to the misconception that the library is only for checking out books. “Students should come visit the library and get to know their friendly, helpful HFC Librarians,” says Harger. “If students have a research assignment (paper, speech, etc.), they shouldn’t stress. HFC Librarians can walk them through the research process and help them find all the information they need to write a great paper or put together a wonderful speech.”

For more information on Dearborn-area public libraries and how to register for a library card, visit dearbornlibrary.org and dhcl.michlibrary.org. For information on Eshleman Library’s hours of operation and services, visit: hfcc.edu/library.

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