CONCORD (CBS SF) — Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to eliminate overdue book fines at libraries in the county effective Jan. 1, citing concerns about the area’s high cost of living.

The supervisors — by a 4-0 vote with Supervisor John Gioia absent — also were moved to action because of the large number of patrons who currently have their borrowing privileges suspended because of fines.

Out of roughly 650,000 library users countywide, an estimated 18 percent of them currently have their cards “blocked,” meaning they cannot be used to check out books or other materials, according to County Librarian Melinda Cervantes.

That includes 21,000 youth cards belonging to children who are unable to check out library materials during what Cervantes described as a “critical period” in their lives. Moreover, roughly 43 percent of youth who have library accounts currently owe fees on those accounts.

As soon as $10 or more accumulates, the library blocks that user’s card, which limits access to library materials and services. Accounts can also be referred to collections agencies, compounding the impacts on the account holder.

For anyone accessing the library’s offerings online, such as downloading an e-book to be read on a digital device, do not incur the same kind of fees. Lower-income library users, however, may not have access to those devices.

“Those who can afford those devices already live in a fine-free world,” Cervantes said. “Access to technology is an advantage.”

The revenue from overdue fees and replacement costs incurred when library users pay to replace a lost item is responsible for roughly 2 percent of the library system’s revenue, but that revenue from fines and charges has dropped by 31 percent since 2013.

During that same time frame, use of digital resources has increased by more than 125 percent, according to the library.

Supervisor Karen Mitchoff asked if it might be possible to suspend fines earlier than Jan. 1 as a holiday gift to library patrons, although no action was taken on that inquiry.

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