Brooks Memorial Library considers eliminating late fees

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BRATTLEBORO — Brooks Memorial Library patrons might be saying goodbye to late fees.

"Basically, most people are going to be trustworthy about it and responsible," Starr LaTronica, library director, told the Reformer. "And we're just going to have to hope the best of human nature will prevail."

The newly proposed policy's intent is to provide more access by encouraging patrons of all means to borrow materials at the library.

LaTronica has a personal connection to the movement away from fines, having come from a "very chaotic situation" as a child. She said her family never returned library books on time. In fifth grade, LaTronica signed up for a new library card under a made-up name due to the many penalties she had incurred.

"Bless their heart, the librarian let me get away with it," LaTronica said. "But we don't want to have to send young children down the path of forgery and stolen identity just so they can use the library. And it's not just children and families. It's seniors."

The details to do away with the late fees are still being ironed out.

"We don't have a firm timetable," LaTronica said. "We're waiting to go through the budget process because it does affect our revenue line in the budget."

She told the Select Board of the library trustees' plans last week. The board will need to approve the library budget before it goes to annual Representative Town Meeting in March.

Before then, there will be talks about offsetting revenues.

"We have made some changes in the expenditures," LaTronica said. "The trustees are taking on some of the responsibilities that used to be in the town's general operating budget. We just have to make sure everyone is on the same page. But more and more public libraries are moving this way."

In LaTronica's research, she has not seen any library going back and reinstating fines. "That's a good sign to me," she said.

Libraries in Dover and Putney were noted for their policies being free of late fees. And a case study found that 95 percent of materials came back within a week of the due, LaTronica said.

"So that's good," she said.

Patrons will not be able to take out materials until other things are returned. "That's the incentive," LaTronica said.

Through email, her team can contact people about late items.

"It's easier to keep track now that we have computers rather than shuffling through a stack of cards," said LaTronica.

The hope is that the lack of fines might inspire more out-of-town patrons to sign up for a library card. That would bring in some additional revenue.

LaTronica believes the change could "really benefit the community." She said she has seen other libraries she worked with in New York state ask for donations rather than impose penalties and receive more money that way.

"I don't know if that will happen here. It's just such a different mindset, such a different emotional experience," LaTronica said, noting that people may feel magnanimous or generous by donating. "We'll see. The great thing about library work is you can try something and if it turns out not to be the best solution, it's not irreversible. The great thing is we're in such a position to make a positive change in someone's life."

LaTronica invites people to reach out to her with ideas or ways the library can benefit the community.

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com, at @CMaysBR on Twitter and 802-254-2311, ext. 273.

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