The poetry book, “Days and Deeds,” is famous to trivia buffs for being the subject of the largest library fine ever paid, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.
The penalty of $345.14 resulted from the book being returned 47 years late, at two cents per day. For Cheshire Public Library users, however, such a stiff fine will no longer be a concern.
The Town Council voted unanimously during a public hearing on Jan. 10 to permanently remove fines for most library items. As Town Council Chair Tim Slocum joked during the meeting, Philip Baker Hall’s Javert-esque “Seinfeld” character, Lt. Joe Bookman, tracking patrons down to collect fines on long-forgotten books, will now be a thing of the past.
Overdue fines were originally suspended by recommendation of the Cheshire Library Advisory Board back in December of 2019, but the Council’s official approval now brings Cheshire in line with a nationwide trend. Larger library systems, including the New York Public Library, have also done away with fines since the American Library Association first proposed eliminating them back in January of 2019. Since then, Cheshire Public Library Director Beth Piezzo said, 118 of Connecticut’s 176 public libraries have done the same.
“It’s something I’ve been against my entire career,” says Piezzo. Explaining the ALA’s reasoning to the Council, Piezzo said that assessing late fees is “a punitive measure that creates a barrier to access, which is an equity issue.”
Piezzo told the Council that fines make up less than 1% of the library’s annual budget. She is also skeptical of the logic of looking at fines as a revenue source. “You’re hoping to get a benefit off people misusing the library,” she said.
The bigger concern, she noted, is that people who rack up hefty fines are simply more likely to keep materials altogether, rather than return them. “So aside from creating a negative customer or service experience at the desk, we noticed that charging fines also sometimes results in materials not coming back at all,” she informed the Council. “Materials returned late do not represent a financial loss to the library, but materials never returned at all certainly do.”
Piezzo cited other numbers to back her case, stating that patrons of the Cheshire Library, prior to the suspension of fines, returned books on average 12.7 days before the due date. With the suspension of fines in place, she said, it was 12.3 days.
“Most people want to be responsible and bring their books back on time,” said Piezzo.
Noting the flexibility of library policies, Piezzo said that patrons can usually work out a replacement for lost items if the same edition can be found. Giving the examples of materials lost in a car crash or a house fire, Piezzo said the library can be forgiving for those who “need some amnesty.”
The bottom line for Piezzo is making sure library resources remain accessible and available to the entire community. “What I love about the library is, there’s no barrier to entry and that it’s a place that’s open for everyone, ” she explained.
Among library offerings still subject to fines, Piezzo explained, are the museum passes. These passes, provided by the Friends of the Cheshire Public Library, offer patrons free or discounted admission to dozens of attractions across the state and region, including Cheshire’s own Barker Character, Comic and Cartoon Museum, the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, and the Dr. Seuss Museum in Springfield. Passes will still be subject to $10-per-day overdue fines, due to their limited availability and steady demand.
The Cheshire Library is also part of the Connecticut Library Consortium, which provides users access to inter-library loans. Not all of the participating libraries have eliminated late fees, per Piezzo, so users should be sure to verify details if borrowing from another library.
“The fine rule is attached to the owning library,” she said.