Omaha public libraries want to dump fees for overdue books, materials

Published: Mar. 19, 2021 at 1:43 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - If you forget to drop off your overdue book at an Omaha library, you won’t be looking at a fine.

At its meeting Thursday, the Omaha Public Library Board of Trustees unanimously voted to eliminate all fees for overdue books and materials. The board’s decision on the matter isn’t the final say; the resolution is subject to final approval by the Omaha City Council.

According to an OPL news release, the move is intended to “alleviate barriers to using the library and to encourage patrons to return library materials without fear of punitive action.”

“Overdue fines only accounted for a fraction of a percent of OPL’s overall budget,” Executive Director Laura Marlane said in the release. “This change will not adversely affect OPL’s budget, but it will help to ease the burden of an additional expense during a time when many people are working to restore normalcy to their lives.”

Libraries would, however, continue to charge for replacing lost or missing items, which will apply to anything more than three weeks late.

Omaha libraries haven’t been charging overdue fines during the pandemic, waiving such fees since they were forced to close their doors in March 2020. Even when libraries were allowed to re-open in September, the fees were still waived.

Julianne Harm makes regular visits to the city’s libraries. She believes eliminating daily overdue fines is a good idea.

“It just keeps the library accessible to everybody,” she said. “I think one of the great things about the library is we all pay our taxes ... Through our taxes, we pay for the library, and then to fully take advantage of it.”

The library board wants more people to be able to check out books and materials, and they say fines can get in the way.

“Really fees create barriers to accessing the library, and it really impacts people in lower-income communities the most,” said Emily Getzschman, marketing manager for Omaha Public Libraries. “So what we found just by doing a quick look at our ZIP codes is that ZIP codes that were in lower-income areas were blocked from using their library card because they had too many fines.”

Officials told 6 News that not collecting daily overdue fines won’t be a big blow to the budget.

“There is no amnesty for lost or damaged books — you’ll have to pay for that.”

Harm said she has experienced accidents involving a library book.

“I’ve had some incidents lately where I’ve knocked books into the bathtub, and those are a little pricier; you have to pay like full-price of the item,” she said.

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