Mesa County Libraries Will Be Overdue Fine Free In The New Year

Stina Sieg/CPR News
Mesa County Libraries will do away with overdue fines starting Jan. 1, 2020. Immediately, 3,000 people who were blocked from checking out books, movies and music will have their privileges restored.

Mesa County Libraries will no longer charge overdue fees starting Jan. 1, 2020. People’s existing overdue charges will also disappear. It’s a trend that’s picking up speed across the country.

“It becomes a matter of access,” said library director Michelle Boisvenue-Fox.

While researching whether to make this change, library employees found that the county zip codes with the most overdue fees also had the lowest incomes.

“And for us, that’s not right,” Boisvenue-Fox said. “We want people to be able to use the library, and the people that need it the most were in those zip codes.”

Stina Sieg/CPR News
Following a national trend, Mesa County Libraries will abolish overdue fines at the start of 2020. Above, employee Rachel Davis shelves DVDs at the library system’s main branch in Grand Junction, Dec. 31, 2019.

Of the 77,000 library accounts in the county, 10,000 are blocked because of a combination of overdue fines and bills for unreturned items. After $10 accrues, people aren’t allowed to check out materials. With this change, 3,000 of those users will immediately have their borrowing rights restored.

Boisvenue-Fox imagines that number will grow, as more people return the books, music and movies they previously may have felt too ashamed to bring back so late.

Consistently, libraries that have made this change had an increase in circulation, returned items and library cards, she said. In 2019 alone, libraries in big cities like Denver and Chicago have done away with fees. So have small towns like the Western Slope city of Montrose.

Boisvenue-Fox has heard mostly excitement from patrons, but there are some people who worry this won’t teach children responsibility. She brushes that off, insisting it’s not kids who plan library visits anyway, that it’s more of a question of parents. Others have asked if the library system will take a financial hit, but she insists that fines make up only about 1 percent of the budget.

More than anything, Boisvenue-Fox talks about wanting people to feel welcome at the county’s eight libraries. When she sees people on the street, they’ll sometimes sheepishly tell her about books they’ve meant to return. She’s also heard about people who dig around in their car for change just to keep their balances low enough to still check out books.

That’s a stress, she said, a stress she’s happy to see eliminated.

“It’s an important step to take. It’s an important question to ask,” she said. “And I think even more libraries are going to take this step going forward.”