SAN MATEO (CBS SF) – Effective Monday, San Mateo County libraries will no longer assess fines for late-return books and other material, to help ensure all county residents can borrow books.

“When we look at the data, it turns out they aren’t effective. At the end of the day, we want to get as many books as possible into the hands of as many readers as possible,” said Charles Stone, chairman of the San Mateo County Library Joint Powers Authority Board.

“This is a proud moment for all of us at San Mateo County Libraries as we continue to look for better ways to serve our community through innovative solutions and progressive policies,” Stone said.

Studies have shown that late fines can be a significant barrier to library access and drive borrowers away, particularly those with low or fixed incomes. Currently, 8 percent of San Mateo County Libraries’ 165,000 cardholders currently have their cards blocked due to fines, and that number rises to 19 in some low-income pockets.

Also, Stone said, the growing research shows fines don’t effectively prompt users to return materials on time.

Eliminating late fees shouldn’t be much of a financial hit for the libraries. Overdue library fines and fees account for less than 1 percent of the libraries’ revenue, and the small loss in revenue will likely be offset by the staff savings associated with enforcing them, library officials say.

The San Mateo County Library Joint Powers Authority includes the cities of Atherton, Belmont, Brisbane, East Palo Alto, Foster City, Half Moon Bay, Millbrae, Pacifica, Portola Valley, San Carlos, Woodside, and the unincorporated areas of the county.

In December, the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors also eliminated overdue book fines at libraries in the county, effective Jan. 1.  Supervisors cited concerns about the county’s high cost of living and the number of patrons—an estimated 18 percent of library card holders in the county—who currently have their borrowing privileges suspended because of fines.

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