From The Wall Street Journal:
Casey Kidik was in fifth grade when she came across a copy of “Julie of the Wolves.” She had checked it out as a second-grader from the public library in Carver, Mass. By the time she rediscovered the book, the family had moved to Plymouth.
“I found it and then didn’t even want to tell my mom,” recalled Ms. Kidik, 25 years old. She hid the book in her bedroom bookshelf for months before coming clean ahead of a family trip to Carver. Embarrassed, she returned it, and her mom paid the $3.25 fine.
Ms. Kidik felt so guilty she avoided borrowing another book for nearly 20 years. “It’s this weird shame that we have about library late fees,” said Ms. Kidik, now a communications analyst at an asset management firm.
Libraries have come to realize what a lot of guilty readers already know—that late fees prompt some borrowers to keep books rather than face the humiliating tsk-tsk of librarians collecting late fees. That chapter is about over.
This week, Chicago became the largest American metropolis to end charges for overdue books, joining at least 150 library systems in the U.S. and Canada that have ended late-shaming fines, according to the Urban Libraries Council. So far this year, libraries in St. Paul, Minn., Dallas and Oakland, Calif., are among those that have joined the late-fee amnesty movement.
Libraries are fighting for customers to survive in a digital world. One strategy is to remove the twin burdens of fines and guilt.
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Overdue charges range from around 17 cents a day and up. Libraries often cap fines at $5 to $10, or charge the cost of replacing the item, according to a 2017 study by the Library Journal.
For many borrowers, the money is less onerous than the feelings of disgrace. St. Paul Public Library Director Catherine Penkert said friends used to hang their head in shame and confess “I didn’t even want to tell you, I have fines.”
Sharon Bostick, who recently retired as the dean of libraries at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, knows the feeling. She created the Library Anxiety Scale, a part of her doctoral dissertation.
“All the rules that we have, and the fines and the fees, they’re making libraries really hard to deal with,” she said. “Putting everybody in this spot where they’re going to be fined to death is not helpful.”
Since St. Paul killed overdue fines, some branches have seen a double-digit percentage increase in circulation. Citywide, circulation is up nearly 2%, a surprising plot twist after years of steady declines.
The fear of returning overdue books is part of American culture. In a 1988 episode of “Married with Children,” character Al Bundy faced a $2,163 fine for a copy of the “Little Engine That Could” 31 years overdue. A 1991 episode of “Seinfeld” has Jerry being dogged by a library cop over a book due in 1971.
Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Sorry if you encounter a paywall)