UPDATE | Pierce County Library System asks Buckley, other branches to implement “fine-free” plans

The King County Library System is also looking at whether to eliminate late return fees and other fines.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect the Pierce County Library System Board of Trustees voted to examine going fine-free across the system during its Feb. 9 meeting.

The Pierce County Library System — which means the Buckley library — is looking at potentially eliminating late fees and other charges.

During the Feb. 9 meeting, the PCLS Board of Trustees discussed eliminating various fines and fees, and asked library managers “to develop an implementation plan to eliminate fines for overdue books and materials and fees for unreturned items,” Marketing and Communications Director Mary Getchell said in an email interview.

PCLS hasn’t collected late fines and fees replacing lost books and other materials since mid-March 2020 due to the COVID pandemic.

“Library administrators and staff support the removal of fines and fees as a way to provide better and more equitable access to Library services for all people. In the past two years, when the Library System has not been collecting fines, staff observed no change in the rate materials returned to libraries,” Getchell wrote in an earlier press release about the Board discussing eliminating fines. “Library administrators believe fines and fees pose an economic barrier to using and accessing libraries, which are a significant public resource connecting people to information and technology. During the past 30 years, many other library systems have gone fine free to increase public access and remove barriers.”

According to Getchell, PCLS received $380,000 in late fee revenue in 2019, and the money gets wrapped into the library system’s overall operating budget. PCLS financial documents show late fee revenue made up just about 1 percent of its total revenue that year.

The advocacy website End Library Fines shows hundreds of library systems across the county are fine-free, partially fine-free, or in the process of becoming fine-free. This includes a handful of libraries and library systems in Washington, including the Spokane Public Library, the East Adams Library District, the Puyallup Public Library, the Timberland Regional Library, the Kitsap Regional Libraries, the Seattle Public Library, the Sno-Isle Libraries, the Jefferson County Library, the North Olympic Library System, La Conner Regional Library, the Bellingham Public Library, and the Whatcom County Library.

Notably absent from that list is the King County Library System, which has paused collecting late fees during the pandemic, but could resume at a later date.

“We are reevaluating our late fee policy,” said Public Relations Specialist Sarah Thomas. “This is a policy change that needs more study, and we have not made a final decision either way.”