As of August 1, 2020, Howard County Library System is fine free.
Why fine free?
- It removes a barrier to access: Being fine free is in keeping with HCLS’ commitment to equity and inclusion, and it positions us to more fully live our mission of providing high quality public education for all Howard County residents. At any given time, seven percent of customers have their accounts blocked due to overdue fines. Full access has a dividend for Howard County – we all benefit from a curious and engaged community.
- Late fines are not effective: Libraries that have eliminated overdue fines have found that return rates actually increase. By removing the threat of daily accumulating late fines, people are less likely to avoid returning to the library and more likely to bring back any overdue items they’ve checked out. No late fines mean more people using the library.
All accounts were wiped clean of existing overdue fines on August 1, 2020 (with the exception of fees and fines for items in the DIY and art collections).
- Items in HCLS’ DIY and art collections continue to accrue fines when they are returned late. Those collections are small in comparison with all other collections (for example, the DIY collection includes only six sewing machines or one copy of most prints), and demand typically exceeds supply, especially in the DIY collection.
- Borrowed items continue to have due dates, and borrowers will receive notices when their items are due to be returned. Additionally, HCLS continues to ask customers to pay the cost of replacing any lost or damaged items. See below for frequently asked questions about fines and fees and see this page for borrowing policies.
Overdue fines only account for two percent of the Library’s budget. Customers who wish to support the Library are encouraged to make donations to the Friends & Foundation of HCLS.
Howard County Library System is proud to join fine-free libraries across the country. The Urban Libraries Council created an interactive map that shows which library systems have taken steps to eliminate overdue fees.
When is HCLS going fine free?
HCLS is fine free as of August 1, 2020.
What about fines due prior to August 1?
All accounts will be wiped clean of fines as of August 1, with the exception of fees and fines for items in the DIY and art collections. Only fees accrued since 2018 for lost or damaged items remain on accounts.
Are all items fine free?
Does fine free apply to all materials?
- DIY and Art Collections: Items in the DIY and art collections continue to accrue fines when they are returned late. Those collections are small in comparison with all other collections (for example, we only have six sewing machines or one copy of most prints), and demand typically exceeds supply, especially in the DIY collection.
Fines vs. Fees
What is the difference between fines and fees?
- FEES are replacement costs for lost and damaged items, a $4 processing fee, a $5 charge for each item left outside bookdrops, postage for materials returned through U.S. mail, and the $10 collection agency fee.
- FINES are charges for items in the DIY and art collections that are returned late.
How much are overdue fines for items in the DIY and art collections?
- For every day that an item in the DIY or art collection is late AND the Library is open, customers are charged $2 with a maximum of $30.
- No fines are charged on days HCLS is closed.
Does this eliminate all fees?
- No. You will still be charged for lost or damaged materials.
- Additional charges may include a $4 processing fee, a $5 charge for each item left outside bookdrops, postage for materials returned through U.S. mail, and a $10 collection agency fee.
What does it mean to be fine free?
Starting August 1, 2020, materials will no longer accrue fines if they are overdue (with the exception of fines for items in the DIY and art collections). Customers will still be responsible for fees to replace lost or damaged materials. However, once a lost item is returned, the replacement cost and $4 processing fee are dropped.
Loan Periods and Overdue Notices
Does this affect how long I can keep items?
- Loan periods have not changed.
- All materials — except eBooks, eAudiobooks and items from the DIY and art collections — automatically renew three days before their due date, if your account is in good standing, other customers are not waiting, and the renewals limit is not reached.
When will I receive notices about overdue items?
- Items due soon: 3 days before due date
- First overdue notice: 7 days
- Second overdue notice: 14 days
- Billing notice: 30 days (print only)
- Account sent to collections: 42 days
What happens when items are overdue?
Borrowed items continue to have due dates, and you will continue to receive notices when items are due to be returned. Due to quarantine, items will not be checked in and removed from customer accounts until five days after they are returned. Items are overdue seven days after the due date.
- Any materials that are 30 days overdue will result in your account being blocked until the items are returned. This means you cannot borrow additional items until the item(s) is returned or the replacement cost is paid.
- Items not returned 30 days after the due date will be considered “lost,” and the replacement cost, plus a $4 processing fee, will be charged to your account.
- Once “lost” items are returned, all charges are removed from your account.
- Your borrowing privileges will be suspended if you have $25 or more in outstanding balance of fees and/or fines.
- Once the balance on your account reaches $75 (materials not returned or paid after 42 days from the billing date), it will be transferred to a collection agency and a $10 collections fee added. This information is not reported to credit bureaus.
Can I still access eContent if my account is blocked?
If your account is blocked, you may still borrow eBooks and access other eContent. Full borrowing privileges are restored when charges are lowered below $25.
Will customers return their materials on time?
Libraries that have eliminated overdue fines have found that return rates actually increase. By removing the threat of accumulating late fines, people are less likely to avoid returning to the library and more likely to bring back any overdue items they’ve checked out. No late fines mean more people using the library.
What about increased wait times for holds?
Research of other fine-free libraries indicates that hold times are minimally affected. HCLS’ collection development team will monitor the number of copies vs holds ratio and adjust accordingly to limit any effects on wait times.
How many items can I borrow and request?
- You may borrow 30 items each time you visit, with a maximum of 60 items borrowed on one card.
- You may request up to 99 items.
How will this affect the Library’s budget?
Becoming fine free will have a minimal effect. Overdue fines only account for just two percent of the Library’s budget. Additionally, the Library’s eContent (e.g., eBooks, eAudiobooks, digital subscriptions, online classes) do not accrue overdue fines. Being fine free provides equitable access across all formats. Access has a dividend for Howard County – we all benefit from a curious and engaged community.