Local systems: Goal is to allow full access

WHATCOM ­— The public libraries in Bellingham and of the Whatcom County Library System said farewell to overdue fines, effective Jan. 2 of the new year.

They claim to be joining a nationwide trend to eliminate charging people for returning library materials after the due date. The change is to try to make sure everyone has access to library books and services — as the central point of their existence.

“We want to welcome people back to the library, people who may have been avoiding the library or are blocked from using the library because they have overdue fines or because they are concerned about accruing fines,” said Marvin Waschke, chair of WCLS Board of Trustees.

It means everyone now has a clean slate.

While overdue fines may be an inconvenience for some, for others it may be a financial barrier to using the library.

These are some facts about the change:

  •    In the Whatcom County Library System, 8,422 cardholders (8.6% of total) owed $10 or more and were blocked, as of November 2019. With the clearing of the books, those cardholders now have full access again to check out materials.
  •    Most borrowers return their materials on time. Across the two library systems in 2019, the on-time return rate was 93.1 percent, and the rate will still be tracked for future comparison purposes. Based on the experiences of other libraries, a significant change in the rate is not expected.
  •    Patrons will still be charged a replacement cost for unreturned or damaged items and will have their borrowing privileges suspended after a certain balance is reached.
  •    Fines make up just a small share of operating budgets, and fines collected have decreased steadily for both library systems for the past few years. At the 10-branch WCLS, fines collected represent .6% of the total system budget.