One year fine free brings back a love of the library

Less stress. Help for families. Energizing a love of reading. 

In February 2022, Elkhart Public Library went fine free. The reason? Everyone should have access to books and resources, and one mistake shouldn’t punish anyone for years. 

Since then, at least 1,400 people come back to the library. About 23 percent of accounts that previously carried fines have been reactivated. And those numbers continue to grow. 

Circulation assistant April Neddeau says that staff haven’t seen a noticeable increase in lost or late items since the policy change, either. 

Abby DeWees hadn’t used the library since she was 18. Due to an overdue fine, she was blocked from getting a card. 

Abby DeWees and her son Robin at Baby and Me.

“Fortunately, I came in the same week as the announcement for going fine free,” she says. 

It reignited her love of reading.  

“I read 37 books in 2022. I read zero the year before,” says Abby. “I also started bringing my son, Robin, to Baby and Me.” 

Maribel Maxson was in a similar spot. She had not been in the library for a year due to her overdue account, but she has since returned. 

“It’s wonderful to get items from the library without the fear of getting them back in time and being fined,” she says.  

Tesia Smith says without the burden of late fines, her children’s joy of reading has increased, too. 

Tesia and her daughter Naomi browse in the children’s room for books.

“It helps keep their reading levels up,” she says. “My daughter is in second grade and reading at a fourth-grade level. That was possible because without the library, Naomi wouldn’t have access to books that challenge her.” 

For teacher Elena Huys, checking out books for her students years ago led to many fines that prevented her from using the library. 

“It was very helpful to start over. (Now) I use all of their digital resources,” Elena says. 

Becka Jiménez says her family’s library use has increased thanks to the policy change. 

“Having fees forgiven enables us to use the library more often without the ‘oh no’ factor of forgetting a due date. It’s a blessing to our family,” Becka says. 

Even those unaffected by the policy change see its benefits. 

“It is a good idea to be aware of how fines can affect the most vulnerable people,” says Trish O’Conner. “A public library can be an even more important resource (to them) than the library’s other users.” 

To get started using the library, sign up for a library card at any location or online.