The Ouachita Parish Public Library system is considering the elimination of late fees for books, CDs, DVDs and other materials obtained from the library’s collections, parish officials say.
Revenues from late fees have dropped some $20,000 in the last three years, according to parish documents.
Police jurors reviewed the library’s revenues, expenditures and budgets during a Ouachita Parish Police Jury finance committee meeting last week.
Robin Toms, the parish library system’s director, argued that late fees had not proven a strong deterrent to returning library materials on time.
“We’re not collecting as much in fines as we thought we would,” Toms said. “We have a lot of people, who owe a fine or owe fines, bring the materials back, don’t pay the fine and just never return.”
Police Juror Jack Clampit said national trends showed libraries across the country were eliminating all fines, including late fees. Nixing late fees would avoid penalizing loyal library customers, he argued.
“Our customer base is dwindling,” Clampit said. “Let’s hold off on the ones we have and keep them coming back.”
The imposition of late fees protected public property by discouraging people from never returning items, according to Police Juror Shane Smiley.
“I just think the fine encourages people to bring the material back,” Smiley said.
Toms acknowledged Smiley’s point but noted that late fees were not an incentive to return materials in a timely manner.
Currently, senior citizens are exempt from paying late fees.
“We’re not proposing that right now,” Toms said. “It’s just something we’re talking about.”
In 2016, the library generated $95,807 in library fines and lost book collection fees. The library is expected to close out 2019 with $73,500 in annual revenues.
“It’s not something we would do away with without talking about it,” said Toms, referring to the amount of revenues generated through fines.
On another front, the Police Jury signed off on the library system’s capital outlay budget, which included $820,000 set aside for land acquisition and renovation work to the library’s main branch.
“We have had property next to the main branch appraised,” Toms said. “We already own the property behind the main branch. The vision is for us to own the whole block.”
Toms said the library’s main branch, once expanded, would face Hudson Lane instead of North 18th Street.
“If it comes down to whether our vision fits our pocketbook, then we have to start cutting back. I’d rather fit our pocketbook to the vision,” Toms said. “Our focus right now is not to add additional branches but make each branch as useful as possible to serve the needs of the community.”
The meeting room holds only 100 people now.
“We think it should be bigger,” Toms said.