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Move to go fine free brings more Elkhart kids back to the library

Michelle Bean believes Elkhart Public Library did a great thing in wiping the slate clean for kids.

In the spring of 2019, the EPL Board of Trustees took the step of eliminating fines and overdue dates on all kids and young adult books. The big idea? Taking away all the worry of owing money removes a significant roadblock on the way to improving student literacy.

The numbers so far have been promising.

“I’ve been there (with my children) … they’ve just forgotten to take the book back, they want to read it one more time, they’ve gotten attached to it,” says Bean, who has two elementary-school age children and one teen at home. “Some don’t have the money to pay (fines), but you shouldn’t take away the adventure of reading just because you owe a few dollars.”

Bean says just the idea of unpaid fines keeps kids and their families away from the library. 

“You feel guilty and it’s a barrier to coming back,” she says. “… And the library, that’s a big deal. They come home excited for the library. They get to go and hear stories and do all the creative things there.”

Going fine free is part of the wider Elkhart Public Library campaign to help every child be ready to read and succeed by Grade 3. That initiative is part of EPL’s 2019-21 strategic plan, and other actions include collaborating more with teachers, getting more books into homes, creating more inviting library spaces for children, and taking stories into the community to develop a greater excitement for reading.

Interesting numbers so far:

* Prior to the board action eliminating fines, 1,337 cardholders under the age of 18 were blocked from checking out library materials because they owed more than $10. In the first six months, that number was reduced by 40 percent. 

* The number of new and returning cardholders under the age of 13 increased by 26.2 percent. 

* Compared with data going back to 2017, checkouts of kids and young adult items were up by 10.7 percent over the summer.

* Nearly 100 more young people each month have come into the library with a clean slate to get borrowing privileges.

“We’ve created an incentive for people to come into the library. We’ve created an incentive for people to keep items longer. We’ve created an incentive for people to access the library after they’ve returned an item,” says EPL board trustee Mickey Wagner, director of elementary education for Concord Community Schools. “I’m pleased with how it’s working.”

Goshen Public Library, working in partnership with EPL, also took action to eliminate overdues in the spring. Borrowers of all ages are still responsible for paying to replace lost and unreturned books and DVDs.