Readers on the fifth floor of Burton Barr Central Library in downtown Phoenix can take in the city’s skyline through large windows. Photo taken June 15, 2022. (Photo and story by Jessica Herrera/Cronkite News)

August 20, 2022

Cronkite News

Libraries drop fines, add services to entice readers to return

COVID-19 closed libraries across the Valley and interrupted most services and programs. Now, more than two years into the pandemic, library systems are thinking outside the book to bring back cardholders of all ages.

They’re doing it two ways.

One way is the elimination of fines on overdue materials from major library systems in Phoenix, Chandler, Mesa and other cities. The second is the addition of new services, from aiding entrepreneurs to providing nutritious meals to youngsters.

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When it comes to suspending fines, the Phoenix Public Library led the way – in November 2019, a few months before the pandemic was declared. The intent then, as it is now, was to encourage more use of services across the system’s 17 branches.

“We were the first in the Valley to discontinue charging for overdue fines,” said Geraldine Hills, community engagement liaison for the library.

To turn the page on the pandemic, the Phoenix system has added services. The Burton Barr Central Library downtown offers StartUpPHX, a space for business entrepreneurs; College Depot, a full-service college planning center; and Kids Cafe, a program in partnership with St. Mary’s Food Bank that provides free, healthful meals to those younger than 18.

In Chandler, library officials say suspending fines wasn’t just a goodwill move – it’s a nod to the rise of e-books.

“We have seen the transition to e-collections over the past 20 years, and those readers are not assessed overdue fines,” said Elizabeth Brizel, a member of the Chandler Public Library Board, which eliminated fines in May.

Board members recognize that waiving fines can help to overcome barriers some residents face as they try to access services at Chandler’s four libraries. Forgiving fines aims to encourage all to revisit the library, especially young people in low-income households.

“Typically the segment of society that is most adversely affected by having fines on their library card is children,” said Rachelle Kuzyk, library manager. “Their ability to get to the library is often determined by a parent who, (through) no fault of their own, may not be able to get back to the library on time. There could be mobility issues or transportation issues.”

The replacement of borrowed items if lost or damaged remains in place, but Chandler librarians already see the positive impact of both in-person library visits and e-book checkouts on their online platform.

“This is a really great thing. for kids, for readers, for anyone who enjoys library services,” Kuzyk said.

Chandler Public Library also has lowered printing costs. Job seekers, students and anyone who lacks access to a printer at home can get a black and white sheet printed for 10 cents and a color sheet for 25 cents.
All these changes are meant to make services more accessible and equitable, administrators say.

“Libraries should be serving everyone equally,” Hills said.