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Overdue fines soon a thing of the past at SLO County public libraries

Greta Mart/KCBX
Stacks at the Morro Bay library branch.

Ever since public libraries have been around, the overdue library book—and the fines incurred—have been the bane of borrowers, and sometimes a punchline. But San Luis Obipso County library branches are adopting a new policy, aimed at removing a barrier to borrowing. 

[Sound clip from the television sitcom Seinfeld: Mr. Bookman: You took this book out in 1971...Seinfeld: yes, and I returned it in 1971...Mr. Bookman: yeah, 1971, that was my first year on the job.]

That’s a Seinfeld episode from 1991, when Jerry finds out he owes bigtime for a 20-year-old overdue book and is hounded by a library detective.

[Seinfeld: I returned that book, I remember it very specifically...Mr. Bookman: You’re a comedian, you make people laugh...Seinfeld: I try...Mr. Bookman: you think this is all a big joke, don’t ya?]

Well, now San Luis Obispo County library users will never have to worry about fines again.

“Our purpose is to be a free public library, with free beings that active word there,” said Chris Barnickle, director of the San Luis Obispo County Libraries. “The policy came about as we were looking at the number of cardholders that we had blocked right now—we had over 800 children's cards blocked—and we felt like that was not serving our mission.”

Until now, when a library user incurred $25 or more in fines, their card was blocked from further use until the fine was paid.

Barnickle said the new policy of no fines applies to books, DVDs, CDs...everything in all library collections. Over the past few years, new factors like automatic renewal have done a lot towards decreasing fines.

Barnickle said in no way is the San Luis Obispo County library system forging uncharted territory; many libraries across the country have gotten rid of overdue fines.

And Barnickle said he’s not worried at all that materials will be checked out, never to be returned.

“We will block card holders if they don't return materials,” Barnickle said. “But in libraries that we've looked at that have implemented this policy, they actually see greater return rates.”

The new no-fine policy kicks in on February 1, 2019.

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