ROCKPORT — The day Gloucester's Sawyer Free Library abolished late fees, Rockport Public Library decided to follow suit.

The decision to end all overdue penalties was confirmed at The Rockport library's board meeting Wednesday morning. Director Cindy Grove said the decision had the backing of Town Administrator Mitch Vieira and Finance Director Carrie Arnaud.

"We want to break down as many barriers of service to our community," Grove said. "It's a growing trend. A lot of large cities are seeing this barrier. Libraries are all about putting resources into people's hands. We're excited to make it easier for people to do that."

This doesn't mean there's now a free-for-all on Rockport Public Library's materials. If a member does not return an item after 49 days, it will be considered lost and the person will be billed to replace it.

Borrowing periods will remain the same; members can take home most materials for three weeks. For specialty items such as telescopes and wi-fi hot spots, the check-out time is only one week. Check-outs for all materials can be renewed twice.

Previously, the late fees gathered would contribute to the town's general fund. After years of collecting fees, however, the directors decided this tiny revenue stream was not worth the way it deterred those with late fees from using the library. 

"In fiscal year 2020, we were collecting $11.43 a week," Grove said. "Over years we've been seeing it decrease to the point where (the revenue) wasn't substantial. We've been making it easier for our customers to renew materials, and people have been using more of our e-book collection." E-books turn themselves in automatically when the borrowing period is up, she further explained.  

Grove said she hopes this change would alleviate some stress for library members, especially the families who check out multiple picture books at a time.

"It's great news for us and the community," she said. 

Although Rockport Public  and Sawyer Free libraries are just now ending late fees, Manchester Public Library and the TOHP Burnham Free Library in Essex haven't collected overdue penalties in years. 

"The amount of money brought in was very minimal," said Manchester Library Director Sara Collins when asked about the library's decision to end late fees over five years ago, "especially when you factor in the postage fees to mail out overdue notices."

Collins, like Grove, doesn't want to "put up any roadblocks" when it comes to members checking out the library's materials.

"We found, if anything, that good will makes people want to keep their cards in good standing," she explained. "If they lose materials, they still have to pay for what they lost. The community isn't losing out on books or movies (without late fees)."

In 2001, TOHP Burnham Library, along with a group of other Massachusetts libraries that cater to a population of 10,000 people or less, decided to drop late fees once and for all. Like Rockport, late fees previously went straight into the Essex budget for that year, but the chump change employees ended up collecting was decidedly not worth the effort.

"We would rather have a positive, welcoming place rather than a place where you were scared to return something overdue," Director Deborah French said.

Michael Cronin may be contacted at 978-675-2708, or mcronin@gloucestertimes.com.

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