A memorable line from the movie “Good Will Hunting” perfectly summarizes the value of public libraries.
In the title role, Matt Damon plays a South Boston janitor who happens to be a Mensa-level genius with a photographic memory. Though he has no formal schooling, he reads a lot — philosophy, history, even advanced mathematics.
Confronting a condescending Harvard graduate student in a bar, Will Hunting tells him, “You dropped a hundred and fifty grand on an education you could have gotten for a dollar fifty in late charges at the public library.”
That great bargain is about to get even better. Mesa County Libraries is joining a growing movement to eliminate fines for overdue books — a move we endorse based on some sound thinking that the new library director brought with her from Comstock Park, Michigan.
The library there cut their overdue fines shortly before Michelle Boisvenue-Fox arrived in Mesa County in July. The Denver Public Library and Chicago’s libraries also went fine-free this year.
The Sentinel’s Duffy Hayes laid out the library’s reasoning on Friday’s front page. Fines tend to limit access to the people who need the library most — “vulnerable populations,” as a library spokesman put it.
The library’s research showed that patrons in ZIP codes with the most poverty had the largest amounts of fines — confounding the library’s mission of being a “library of access.”
Revenue from fines only makes up 1% of the library’s $7 million annual budget, so the new policy is unlikely to create budgetary challenges. But losing the revenue is worth it if going fine-free results in improved access to the communities that can least afford to lose it, Boisvenue-Fox said.
Library personnel say that many of the libraries that have eliminated overdue fines report little change in the percentage of patrons who return materials on time. Some libraries report that more materials get returned on time.
Some parents are hesitant to let their kids check out numerous items because of the possibility of running up fines. Doing away with fines allows children to check out more library materials, Boisvenue-Fox said.
We need the valley’s children to read more. Anything that can help boost their reading proficiency and comprehension is a winning move, as far as we’re concerned.
Because of the change, some 2,800 Mesa County residents will regain their lending privileges on Jan.1. Currently, a fine balance over $10 restricts lending. Up to now, the library charged 10 cents a day for overdue items. That goes away in the new year.
While overdue fines won’t be assessed any longer, the library will continue to bill charges for unreturned, damaged or incomplete items. Items borrowed from other libraries through an interlibrary loan program will still carry overdue fines.
Kudos to the library board for continually brainstorming ways to add value to the library and make it as accessible as possible.