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Sno-Isle Libraries serves as a model for Seattle’s proposal to end overdue book fees

A patron browses for books at the Central Library, part of the Seattle Public Library system. The city is asking voters to do away with late fees as part of a proposed doubling of the current library levy.
Shauna Sowersby
/
KNKX
A patron browses for books at the Central Library, part of the Seattle Public Library system. The city is asking voters to do away with late fees as part of a proposed doubling of the current library levy.

A Seattle proposal to get rid of library fines for overdue books has sparked concern. Some library users fear it will mean longer wait times for popular titles or that more books will go missing. But that hasn't been the experience for the Sno-Isle library system, which did away with fines 35 years ago.

Sno-Isle Libraries, which covers much of Snohomish and Island counties, doesn't charge a fee as long as you return the materials. Sno-Isle spokesman Jim Hills says when a book is more than 14 days past due, borrowers do receive a notice.

“We’ll communicate with them that, hey you’ve got this thing out, if you can’t return it we’d love to have the replacement fee," Hills said.

Hills says the goal is keep things in circulation and not to be punitive. As for how it's working, Hills said, people are good about returning books. When comparing this system to others around the country, he says, Sno-Isle's approach appears to work; the dual-county system's loss rate is on par with the national average.

Proponents of doing away with library fines for overdue books say it’s about equity. People who are low income are more likely to lose borrowing privileges because they can’t pay the fines. 

The City of Seattle is asking voters to do away with late fees as part of a proposed doubling of the current library levy.

Paula reports on groundbreaking legal decisions in Washington State and on trends in crime and law enforcement. She’s been at KNKX since 1989 and has covered the Law and Justice beat for the past 15 years. Paula grew up in Idaho and, prior to KNKX, worked in public radio and television in Boise, San Francisco and upstate New York.