The Enoch Pratt Free Library has become the first public library in the state to eliminate overdue fines for its customers. The official announcement will be made by Mayor Catherine Pugh and Pratt Library president and CEO Heidi Daniel today at the Free to Bmore community block party at the Walbrook branch on North Avenue. This new initiative makes the Pratt Library one of the first major urban libraries on the East Coast to waive fines on materials.
“As a public library, our top goal is to provide equal access to information, services, and opportunities for all,” Daniel said in a statement. “We know fines are a barrier to access for thousands of Baltimore City residents. We want to break down that barrier for them.”
The branches with the most blocked users are the main library downtown, the Southeast Anchor Library in Highlandtown, and the Pennsylvania Avenue branch in West Baltimore, which include areas with high poverty rates. Fees begin at 20 cents a day for adults for late materials up to $6 and children and teens are charged 10 cents a day up to $3. Once a customer reaches $10, the library card is cut off. Under the new policy, cards will be blocked when the balance reaches $25 and payment plans will be available.
According to Pratt Library records, the system will reverse $186,000 in penalties for 26,000 people and 13,000 borrowers will be able to resume their borrowing privileges.
Beginning today, no matter how late the Pratt-owned materials are, all fines will be waived. Fees for lost, damaged, or materials borrowed through the inter-library loan will still apply.
“I’ve seen parents tell children not to take out library books because they fear having fines they can’t pay,” Daniel said. “We want to ease those financial worries and welcome everyone back to their library.”
Pratt’s chief operating officer Gordon Krabbe says that overdue fines account for less than one quarter of the of one percent of the library’s $40 million annual budget. The library will waive nearly $100,000 in fines collected each year but will continue to charge customers full price to replace books never returned. He says it’s a small problem that accounts for a lot of resources and time that could be put elsewhere.
“We spend more trying to collect the fines,” he said. “This is a policy that just makes sense.”
The Free to Bmore block party will begin at 2 p.m. today and will also feature an unveiling of a new mural by a local artists Mural Masters, music by DJ Landis Exandis, and free food and performances.