Harris County residents no longer will have to pay late fees on overdue library books, formalizing a policy the 26 branches of the county library started during the pandemic.
Harris County Commissioners Court voted unanimously on Tuesday to approve a measure making the elimination of late fees permanent, following Houston City Council’s decision last month to do the same at the Houston Public Library.
“The county will join the city of Houston, New York, San Diego, Nashville, Baltimore, San Francisco, and League City,” Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis said.
More than 1.8 million people have library cards with the Harris County Public Library system. The library’s roughly 2 million items were checked out more than 9.5 million times last year.
Late fees make up less than 1 percent of the library’s annual budget, according to Edward Melton, executive director of the Harris County Public Library system.
“During the pandemic, we stopped taking fines,” Melton said. “It’s really a very minor impact that we have on our budget, but we do see that with not having fines, people are more prone to bring back materials and also use the library, because that’s one of the barriers in terms of people not coming back.”
See here for the background; sadly, the link to my favorite (and relevant to this issue) Bloom County comic has expired, because Facebook be like that. I don’t think I had considered before how little of their budgets library fines must be. Not surprising, since they’re ten cents a day and are capped at three bucks total, but still. Some cultural axioms just get very deeply internalized. Anyway, good for HCPL, and good for the Houston library system for leading the way.