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Elkhart, Goshen libraries permanently getting rid of all fines and fees starting this Tuesday

Terry Kearney
Creative Commons

The Elkhart and Goshen public library systems are permanently doing away with all fines and fees starting Feb. 22.

The two systems — which operate independently but share some resources, including borrowing — are also giving cardholders a clean slate by forgiving all current outstanding debts.

Trevor Wendzonka, the Elkhart Public Library’s chief marketing officer, said the change will break down barriers and improve access to the library — especially for disadvantaged residents.

“We really see this as a way to expand more of our reach into the community,” Wendzonka said. “We wanted to wipe the slate clean so that everybody could come in and get a fresh start.”

In 2019, Elkhart and Goshen went fine free for all children’s materials. The goal? Making sure every child was ready to read by grade three.

Wendzonka said that was a big success and led to the decision to drop fines and fees for everyone.

“That was very well received,” Wendzonka said. “We saw a great reduction in the number of people that were blocked from using the library, of course. Lots more returned materials that were lost and would have been subject to those onerous overdue fines.”

Going forward, the libraries will only charge fees if materials are not returned within 31 days. But if the material is returned, the fee will be removed.

Over the past several years, major library systems including New York City, Chicago, San Diego and Boston have done away with fines and fees and seen increases in patronage and the return of late materials.

For example, the Chicago Public Library dropped all fines and fees in fall 2019 and saw a 240 percent increase in returned materials over the next month.

Wendzonka said the change at Elkhart and Goshen means about 85 library systems in Indiana will have eliminated fines and fees. Locally, the St. Joseph County Public Library also went fee free back in January.

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Jakob Lazzaro comes to Indiana from Chicago, where he graduated from Northwestern University in 2020 with a degree in Journalism and a double major in History. Before joining WVPE, he wrote NPR's Source of the Week e-mail newsletter, and previously worked for CalMatters, Pittsburgh's 90.5 WESA and North by Northwestern.