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Fine-free library review seen through survey

Nearly half of responders said eliminating library fines increased access to materials during the pandemic

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Nearly a full year after going fine free, Rochester Public Library is seeing intended outcomes.

In June 2020, the Library Board voted to remove overdue fees, citing greater, more equitable access. The move came during the first few months of the pandemic, when many families were unsure about their financial futures.

RELATED: Rochester library drops overdue fines Board makes move to remove potential barrier to materials.
In a recent survey, 46% of respondents said eliminating fines increased access to materials during the pandemic. For individuals experiencing financial stress, the impact was much greater.

“We found that for those who reported feeling financially stressed, going fine free improved their access to library materials,” said Karen Lemke, head of marketing and community engagement.

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In all, 17% of total respondents reported feeling financially stressed. Out of that group, 76% said the fine free initiative reduced their financial stress, and 72% said it helped them or their families access the materials they needed during the pandemic.

The fine free initiative was intended to increase library access.

“We’ve previously hypothesized that having overdue fees presented a barrier to individuals who had a greater need for library resources,” Lemke said in a statement about the survey results. “This survey indicates that removing fines did, in fact, help those who really needed it.”

Prior to adopting a policy to remove overdue fines, the library offered two pilot programs: one in 2017 and another in 2019. In both cases, survey respondents said removing fines allowed greater access to library resources: 59% in 2019 and 44% in 2017. In past surveys, cardholders were not asked if they were experiencing financial stress.

“This is the first time we have data to show how financial stress and the removal of overdue fines affects library access,” Lemke said, adding, “We also saw different responses when analyzing the data by zip codes.”

Survey respondents also reported the fine free initiative came at a good time, as many were struggling due to the pandemic.

“The elimination of fines has been helpful to our family during this odd time in history,” stated one respondent.

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