Sawyer Free Library says farewell to fines

Courtesy photo/Mary Cresse checks out a book with Sawyer free Librarian Joann Dunajski on Friday. Beginning Wednesday, Feb. 19, Sawyer Free Library is going fine-free for most items, and eliminating cardholders' overdue account balances.

Next week, the Gloucester public library is saying farewell to overdue fines.

Starting Wednesday,  the Gloucester Lyceum and Sawyer Free Library will eliminate the practice of charging people for returning most library materials after the due date. While overdue fines may be an inconvenience for some, for others — who have limited incomes and tight budgets — fines are a financial barrier to using the library.

"We're pleased to offer our community members the opportunity to use Sawyer Free Library materials and resources without fear of incurring late fees," said Deborah Kelsey, the library's director. "Going fine-free is just another way we're committed to leveling opportunities for everyone. We want to connect people to knowledge and ideas, not stand in the way. The library has also eliminated people’s existing overdue account balances, so everyone can start fresh.”

According to library staff, about 10% of borrowers were unable to check out materials due to overdue fines on materials they had returned. Those overdue fine balances will be erased on Wednesday, returning borrowing privileges to those carrying fines.

Sawyer Free joins public libraries in Beverly, Danvers, Hamilton, Andover, Reading, Wakefield and Newburyport that have already eliminated fines. Based on the experiences of other libraries that said goodbye to fines, Sawyer Free librarians don’t expect to see a significant change in the number of overdue items after the library stops charging overdue fines. However, librarians will keep track to compare future to past numbers. 

In addition to going fine-free, Gloucester's public library is making significant changes in how it circulates materials to make it even more user-friendly. Now all eligible library materials will be automatically renewed for up to 12 weeks, twice as long as before. Library materials, with some exceptions, will now circulate for two weeks with five possible renewal periods of two weeks. Borrowers will receive an email when items are automatically renewed or need to be returned, simplifying the process for everyone.

Although there will be no more fines, borrowers will still be encouraged to return their items on time. However, materials not returned to the library within 12 weeks will be considered lost and will accrue a replacement fee.

"We understand that it's sometimes hard to return materials to the library," said Kelsey on the change. "Weather, family demands, schedule changes, illness; life has a way of confounding our best plans.”

In December, the American Library Association passed a resolution urging libraries to eliminate fines, citing "mounting evidence" that ending overdue fines increases library usage.

Alex Lent, director of the Peabody Institute Library in Danvers, said circulation at the Danvers library has gone up by about 35% since it eliminated daily overdue fines last July. The library introduced automatic renewal at the same time, which is also probably a factor in the increase in usage, he said.

Sawyer Free librarians say that overdue fines make up a small share of the budget, and negatively impact the people who may use the library the most. 

“By implementing these existing changes it is our hope it will now be easier than ever to borrow materials and enjoy the library," Kelsey said. "We believe that the community is stronger when everyone has easy access to the public library and the information and services they need to pursue their goals.”

More information about the Gloucester Lyceum and Sawer Free Library, 2 Dale Ave., its many offerings and free programming is available at

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