No more library fees

The Ridgedale Public Library in Minnetonka was quieter than in pre-pandemic times, when storytime and other library events attracted patrons of all ages throughout the day. 

Since March, the Hennepin County Library system has halted due dates for checked out materials in light of COVID-19. When the library system does reinstate due dates, it will not go back to charging late fees throughout the 41 libraries.

This is something the library system has been wanting to do for some time, according to Hennepin County Library Communications Manager Josh Yetman.

“We don’t want to penalize people for being a day or two late,” he said.

Chad Helton, the new library director who came in July from LA Public Libraries agreed.

“We don’t fund our libraries on the mistake of others,” he said.

The library system is also seeking input from the county board on a potential fine forgiveness program for fines accrued pre-pandemic, Yetman noted.

While late fees won’t be applied for overdue material, the library system will continue imposing a fine after 41 days, which is when a book goes from being late to being counted as unreturned or lost, Yetman said.

“Since late fees are a small portion of the budget, we feel we can do that as a way for us to provide better equity and better access for the library system,” he said.

The library’s 2021 operating budget is roughly $67.9 million, and funded by Hennepin County property taxes.

Last year, fines and fees for overdue materials accounted for $600,000, or less than 1% of the total operating budget.

Beyond those operational dollars, some of the programs are supported by donors like the Friends of the Hennepin County Library and grants from the State of Minnesota’s Legacy Amendment for Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund (Minnesota Legacy Funds).

Doing away with late fees is just one of the ways the library system is going to try to get people borrowing materials again, Yetman said.

With the 2021 budget in effect as of Jan. 1, the library system is actively working on how to fully implement this change within the computer system.

At the same time, they are working on reopening the eight existing libraries that have been closed since March - among them being Minnetonka Library (the Ridgedale location is open), Golden Valley, Long Lake, St. Bonifacius and Osseo. Yetman anticipates these will be opening by the end of March.

There have also been limitations on service in order to make sure things are done safely, including the return process, which currently includes a 72-hour hold on items after they are brought back.

While research is ongoing as to how long the virus remains on certain materials, the libraries are continuing the process out of an abundance of caution, Yetman said.

The libraries are also operating under limited hours and have closed outdoor drop boxes for the time being.

For more information and hours, visit hclib.org/about/locations.

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Kristen Miller is the community editor for the Sun Sailor, covering the communities of Plymouth, Hopkins and Minnetonka. Email story ideas to kristen.miller@apgecm.com

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