@ the library

Mt. Lebanon library, wintertime.

LIBRARY ELIMINATES FINES We’ve all been there: You’re at the checkout desk with your haul of books, magazines and maybe a Blu-ray of an intricately plotted heist movie. You present your library card, and the librarian informs you, in a low, discreet tone usually reserved for credit card fails, that you still owe $13.50 from that ill-advised attempt to explore the entire Pauly Shore oeuvre. There goes your weekend.

No more. Like many libraries across the country and here in Allegheny County, Mt. Lebanon Public Library is eliminating fines for overdue materials.

In 2019, the American Library Association declared monetary fines “an economic barrier to access of library materials and services,” and issued a resolution urging libraries to actively move away from assessing fines, and urging government entities to strengthen library funding, which lessens their dependence on fines as a revenue source.

But it’s not like Mt. Lebanon stands to lose a big chunk of money. Library Director Robyn Vittek says fines on overdue materials account for less than 1 percent of the library’s budget. This number used to make up 2 to 3 percent of the budget, but county libraries now offer automated renewals and have tripled the number of times an item can be renewed, from twice to six times, which drastically reduces the number of overdue items and fines collected.

“We constantly explore other ways of generating income to help supplement our operating budget,” Vittek said.

Going fine-free doesn’t mean you can just walk off with the stuff, though. If you keep a book for six weeks past the final due date, the library will bill you for it, and the cost of the replacement will stay on your record. If you owe $10 or more for any reason, you will not be permitted to borrow or renew materials, and you will lose access to e-resources and library databases.

Not all libraries in the Allegheny County Library Association are embracing the elimination of fines, so you could still be fined for late-returned items at other libraries.

Vittek says libraries that have eliminated fines see around 95 percent of items returned within one week of the due date, which is not significantly different than the rate before making the change.

“We believe this policy change will help us better accomplish our mission to create an inclusive, welcoming environment,” she said. “We want everyone to feel welcome at the library.”

IMPROVING BOARD DIVERSITY It’s a common challenge for libraries and other organizations that are guided by a board of volunteers: composing a board that best reflects the diversity of your clientele.

The Allegheny County Library Association (ACLA) has launched the Talent Bank, an online resource linking local libraries with community residents who are interested in serving on a library board or committee.

Visit www.aclalibraries.org/the-talent-bank, fill out the online form, and ACLA will pass your information on to your library.

“We’re very eager to attract citizens to board service who might not have considered it in the past, and who will offer different perspectives and world views,” said Mt. Lebanon Public Library Director Robyn Vittek. “The ACLA Talent Bank is a great way to spread the word about library leadership opportunities and promote public libraries to all citizens in our communities.”