It's no secret: we love the Cambridge Public Library staff! From circulation to admin, facilities to youth services - the enthusiasm, warmth, and dedication of the library’s team makes Cambridge an amazing place to live, learn and explore.
This week we are pleased to introduce you to Deputy Director of Libraries, Joy Kim!
Joy is giving us a behind-the-scenes peek at how the Cambridge Public Library decided to join a growing number of libraries that have decided to eliminate late fines.
Joy, what is the fine free initiative?
Fine free is a movement happening in public libraries across the United States. About five years ago we began to see some of the largest libraries in the country make the shift to fine free. The libraries that were at the forefront of this initiative questioned whether late fines were consistent with the mission of libraries as institutions designed to serve all members of the community. So far, the libraries that have gone fine free have seen positive impacts in their communities!
There have been studies done on the benefits of going fine free. Research has shown that late fines are a significant deterrent to people with low incomes - they either won’t get a library card to begin with out of fear of fines or they lose access to materials because they accrue fines. When books are returned late or lost, it’s often because people are facing other hardships, such as housing instability or poverty, and we don’t want to make people's lives even harder with late fines. Eliminating library fines removes the financial barrier, and at times shame, that comes with library charges.
Studies have also shown that small fines don’t change behavior. In fact, some large libraries realized that the cost of fining patrons was more expensive than the fines they were collecting. There’s a myth that going fine free discourages patrons from returning their items, but libraries that are fine free still have their materials returned. In fact, some people are more inclined to return their overdue library books because they aren’t nervous about the repercussions!
So how did it work here in Cambridge? How did our community make this important decision?
As we saw other libraries go fine free, our leadership team wanted to explore it here. We were so fortunate to have the full support of Mayor Siddiqui and Vice Mayor Mallon, who passed a policy order asking the library to look into this question, and of the City Manager’s Office. Cambridge is a really unique and special city in that way - our elected and City leadership understand the importance of libraries for families in the community, and support our efforts to provide a warm, welcoming space for all.
The Cambridge Public Library became temporarily fine free at the beginning of the pandemic because we wanted to respond to the immediate needs of our community members: if someone was unable to return materials to the library because of Covid-19, we didn’t want them to be penalized. Prior to the pandemic, if a patron had more than $10 in fines they were barred from taking out materials, but during the pandemic we lifted that ceiling to $1,000.
We waited until library buildings had reopened and returned to a semblance of normalcy to officially launch the fine free initiative by waiving eligible past charges. We are a member of the Minuteman Library Network, a regional consortium, and we worked with our partners there on the logistical work necessary to update our borrowing settings and to remove eligible past changes.
What does fine free actually look like for library patrons?
Going fine free is a game changer! Just a few weeks ago, on October 19th, the library cleared all the past overdue fines that had accumulated on patrons’ accounts. We also cleared the bills on lost Cambridge-owned children and young adult materials. Cambridge has been fine free for youth materials for decades, and people have still brought back their books. We expect that to continue to be true as we become fine free for all materials.
This is what fine free looks like for us:
Could you tell us how going fine free fits into the library’s diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives?
Last year the library committed to expanding our diversity, equity and inclusion efforts and programs. We have been doing both outward-facing work in the community and internal work with the library staff and teams. We are actively working to understand and dismantle the structures of oppression that exist within our organization and community.
At one point in time librarians created late fees which reduced people's access to library materials, so by eliminating overdue fines we are removing barriers to equitable access and helping to break the cycle of oppression.
What do you like most about working at the library?
I like doing mission driven work, and I feel fulfilled when I get to help people at the library. Going fine free is a great example of that! I like working in Cambridge because the community loves and values the public library. Our patrons understand the library’s mission in the community and have consistently invested in library services. That’s really special. What’s also unique about this library in particular is the community support we receive from residents, stakeholders, elected officials and city leadership.
What is your favorite book?
Oh that is so hard, I can't pick just one! I read really widely, but I lean towards science fiction, fantasy, and graphic novels. Earlier in my library career, I was a youth services librarian, and I had the opportunity to serve on two Young Adult Library Services Association book committees (the William C. Morris YA Debut Award Committee and the Great Graphic Novels for Teens Committee).
Thank you for joining us this week, Joy! If you would like to learn more about the library’s Fine Free Initiative, you can do so here. Please contact the library if you have questions about the status of your account.
Contributions from the City of Cambridge and our generous donors have supported the library’s diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. If you would like to support the Cambridge Public Library, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Cambridge Public Library Foundation is dedicated to supporting the Cambridge Public Library and its programs that educate, inspire and respond to the needs of our diverse community.