Generation X and Baby Boomers no doubt remember Lieutenant Bookman, the hard-boiled library investigator who chases down Jerry Seinfeld for a 20-year-overdue copy of “Tropic of Cancer.” Kramer calculated the late fines could cost Jerry as much as $50,000.
In reality, libraries won’t charge $50,000 for a late or lost library book. And, in Gulfport, soon they won’t charge anything.
“Fees incurred by library patrons were never intended to be a revenue stream, but rather a deterrence to keeping materials out past the due date,” Dave Mather, Gulfport’s Library Director, explained in an agenda memo to Gulfport City Council. “That deterrence sometimes has the opposite effect. Especially for lower income families.”
Fines don’t cover the cost of collecting them, according to multiple studies Mather presented in the January 5 council agenda packet. They do, however, keep lower-income people from using the library.
Because of this, the libraries in the Pinellas Public Library Cooperative want to move away from charging late fees. In South Pinellas, those libraries include not only Gulfport, but Gulf Beaches, St. Pete Beach, and all the St. Petersburg public libraries. Each city must vote individually to move away from charging late fees.
“By moving to a fine-free cooperative, PPLC member libraries reinforce their commitment to equity and inclusion and remove barriers to resources for many community members,” Mather’s memo to Council continued. “Fines for overdue materials discourage customers from accessing the invaluable resources that our libraries offer such as free technology, literacy and lifelong learning.”
Although the Gulfport Public Library collected slightly more than $1500 in late fees last fiscal year (October 1, 2019-September 30, 2020), Mather said the library’s COVID-related closure kept those numbers lower than in prior years – the library collected more than $5,000 for FY18-19. Even so, he said, the library hoped to offset the loss of that money by accepting passport applications, which should start sometime in 2020. Should this come to pass, the library will get $35 for every passport application it accepts, which means that if the library accepted 150 passport applications every year, it would collect about the same amount as it did in late fees for FY18-19.
The “no late fees” policy will not apply to lost or damaged books, Gulfport City Manager Jim O’Reilly said. If someone loses a book, they still must pay to replace it, but people who return their copy of “Tropic of Cancer” a few days – or decades – late can still borrow books or use library services without paying a fee.
“It’s becoming a trend nationwide,” O’Reilly said shortly before council unanimously agreed to stop charging fees for late books, DVDs and other materials.
Don’t go crazy keeping your copy of “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail” just yet – this doesn’t go into effect until October 1.
The city provided more information about this. And if you never saw “The Library” episode of Seinfeld, it’s season three and yes, you can get it on DVD from the Gulfport Library.