Letters to editor

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The Tillamook Library’s new “Fines Free” policy – eliminating fines for overdue books – is well-intentioned but mistaken.

The claim is that fines “intimidate” people and prevent them from using the library. But how intimidating can twenty-five cents be?

“Fines Free” is a national movement promoted by big city libraries claiming that library fines are racist and discriminatory towards black people. Whether that is true or not elsewhere, less than one percent of Tillamook Library users are black, so it appears to be a solution in search of a problem.

Racism does not happen at the Tillamook Library. I will personally donate $100 to the Tillamook Library Foundation if anyone shows discriminatory practices by any staff, volunteer, or board member.

I suspect, but admittedly do not know, that the new policy is virtue-signaling, or perhaps just going along with what national library groups are promoting.

But “Fines Free” isn’t free. Loss of income means less money for the library budget. Voters will remember that when asked to increase funding once again.

There will be a cost in reduced availability of materials. Human nature being what it is, people will keep books longer. More books will be needed to maintain the same level of availability. Or you will have to wait longer because of someone else’s lack of consideration.

Fear of fines is not a deterrent to using libraries, anywhere. What the policy really intends to do is remove the threat of losing library privileges, which happens if you rack up fines and don’t pay. This threat of lost privileges motivates people to follow the rules. Refuse to pay parking and speeding tickets and you lose your driving privileges. Should we get rid of those fines? People who repeatedly break rules don’t deserve the privilege. If you refuse to obey the library’s modest rules – meant to benefit everyone – then you don’t deserve the privilege of using the library.

A library can teach children individual responsibility and the consequences of not obeying rules. What is the message of “Fines Free”? Just ignore the rules about returning books on time Johnny, rules don’t matter and there are no consequences to breaking them.

Fines and penalties serve a legitimate purpose. Should we abolish fines for not paying to use county recreational facilities? For not paying taxes, credit card or utility bills on time? Why not declare everything “Fines Free”?

Fines Free is a national movement that may have purpose elsewhere, but only negative consequences in Tillamook County. It rewards bad behavior at the expense of the vast majority of patrons who do follow the rules.

Decisions should be based on what is right locally, not on what trendy national policies might be the flavor of the day.

Doubtless they meant the best, but the Library’s Board of Directors should reconsider this ill-advised decision.

Members of the Library Board and Library Foundation Board are listed at:

-Robert Deen, Tillamook


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(3) comments

Andy Woodworth

As a librarian who has been following the fine free library issue for years, I can address some of Mr. Deen's concerns.

First, while there are racial elements to this issue, eliminating library fines is an economic issue. Poverty and financial insecurity make library fines a barrier to access; news articles within the past five years have shown that people have avoided using the library for fear of fines or lost book fees. This is a demographic that benefits the most from the library's offerings of books, movies, music, magazines, and internet access. Literacy and literacy skills are predictors for outcomes such as lifetime income, incarceration, and generational poverty. By making library materials widely available to at-risk groups, it can reduce these societal cost in creating better opportunities for people in need.

Second, the funding lost from eliminating fines is negligible. There is a cost to collecting fines in the first place: staff time, equipment, and paperwork. In eliminating fines, those costs go away as well. For example, San Diego Public Library System found that they spent more money collecting fines ($1 million) than the amount they received ($750,000). I would suggest to Mr. Deen that he ask how much the library receives in fines as it compares to the overall budget. My guess would be that it is only a tiny portion of the library budget.

Third, the fears of 'keeping books forever' has not been supported by the data. Libraries that have gone fine free (such as Salt Lake City) have seen little or no change in how long people have kept books. Good communication from the library and reminders assist in reminding people about their obligation. Furthermore, not having library fines does not mean not having fees; if a book is kept too long, it is treated as lost and a person is charged accordingly.

Fourth, I cannot find any evidence (scientifically, anecdotally) that supports the notion that library fines teach personal responsibility to children. I would contend that teaching personal responsibility is the job of a parent, not a library or librarian.

I applaud the decision of the Library Board of Directors for their decision and look forward to adding their name to my map of fine free libraries. For more information on the topic of eliminating library fines as well as some of the examples I have I have mentioned, you can visit my website (https://endlibraryfines.info)


Ah yes, racism must not exist because this white man has never experienced it!

Sparky of SoCal

Lower standards and make it a racial issue is really starting to get old and not helping society at all. I will go on record as saying those excuses are why we are having the problems we are currently experiencing, creating slackers and weak.

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