The Evanston Public Library will move to a free-fine policy on all library materials, effective immediately, in line with officials push to make library services more accessible to the community.

“ Fines will be a thing of the past,” said Tim Longo, the Library’s Access Services Manager, before the Board voted unanimously May 20 to adopt the free-fine policy.

Once official, Library staff will begin making calls to the estimated 800 patrons who are currently barred from checking out materials because of overdue fines, Mr. Longo said.

During recent Board of Trustee meetings, Board members have discussed the possibility of changing to a fine-free policy “as supported by ALA’s [American Library Association’s] recent statement on economic barriers to Information access as well as our own mission statement,” Mr. Longo said in a memo, covering some of the factors leading up to the historic decision.

“Fines are a barrier to access – especially for low-income families – cost the library significant staff time, are antithetical to our mission and set up an adversarial relationship with library users,” he said.

“After reviewing the professional literature regarding library fines and fees, including qualitative research, quantitative studies, and editorial pieces, as well as using findings from CCS [Cooperative Computer Services], the Evanston Public Library recommends the elimination of fines on all library materials.,” Mr. Longo said.

“The scant research on the value and impact of library fines and fees does not indicate a clear benefit of administering these policies, and are costly to enforce.”

Meanwhile, “Library governing authorities that develop policies to remove fines on library materials find it effective in building a positive relationship with their communities,” he said,

While fines are going away, fees will still exist, Mr. Longo said.

Fees are involved when patrons keep or damage Library materials, he said.

“We basically want our materials back – that’s the heart of this policy,” he said at the meeting, held remotely because of social distancing concerns. “We’re not going to give overdue fines to people any more, but we are still going to contact them if they do keep their materials past the normal due date.

“So fees will still exist, fines will no longer exist,” he emphasized, “and we will go out and retroactively clear all cards that are not expired that were blocked due to fines.”

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.