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Anchorage Public Library drops fines on overdue items

The Loussac Library in Anchorage. (Bob Hallinen / ADN archive)

The Anchorage Public Library will stop charging fines for overdue items this year, part of a wave of libraries nationally that have moved to get rid of late fees.

The library is offering to waive all existing late fines and won’t charge any additional fines on late items, Mary Jo Torgeson, director of the Anchorage Public Library, announced Tuesday morning.

The decision doesn’t give away books to the public, as there will still be due dates and fines for materials that are determined to be lost or damaged after a period of time, Torgeson said.

The decision to eliminate late fines came after the library determined they had become a barrier to library use. And the library was spending too much money — around $75,000 a year — processing the fines, according to Torgeson.

The Anchorage Public Library proposed the idea as part of its budget, which both the mayor and the Assembly later approved.

Before the new policy took effect on Jan. 1, the Anchorage Library had expensive fines, charging 50 cents per day and blocking users once they hit $25 in fines.

Citing low reading scores for students in Anchorage, Torgeson said they want to do as much as possible to knock down obstacles that might get in the way of the public accessing books and other materials from the library.

“The more times children see reading in the home, the better chance they have of succeeding in schools," Torgeson said.

Mayor Ethan Berkowitz said the move was made to help make the library more accessible.

“It reduces a barrier to people using the library," Berkowitz said, speaking to reporters Tuesday at the Loussac Library. “It allows library staff to put their time to more productive uses and provide better service to the community.”

Fines weren’t a major revenue source for the library, and they are decreasing as more people use electronic materials that don’t have late fines attached, according to Torgeson. The library will still generate revenue from other sources, like issuing passports and room rentals.

There are 12,000 blocked cards at the Anchorage Public Library and nearly 70,000 lost items at present. In order to have fines waived, library cardholders can contact the library by stopping in, calling, emailing or reaching out on social media.

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