DAUPHIN COUNTY, Pa. (WHTM) — The Dauphin County Library System is joining a nationwide trend in public libraries. A policy that started because of the pandemic is now permanent.

The library system is going “fine free,” eliminating fees for overdue books and other materials. Library staff said this is part of an effort to ensure the library is a welcoming place for everyone.

When the pandemic started in 2020, many libraries around the country, including those in Dauphin County, temporarily eliminated overdue fines.

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“We realized that a lot of families were struggling,” Dauphin County Library System public services director Lori Milach said. “We need to take this leap and do this now so that families don’t have to worry about returning their items during the pandemic.”

However, Milach said the library system had been considering this change since 2019.

“We started to hear about lots of libraries that were looking into this fine free option because it was really releasing these families from the worry about joining the library,” she said.

More than two years after the pandemic started, the change is becoming permanent. Milach said it is about getting rid of barriers.

“We want to make the library a place where people feel welcome and comfortable to come,” she said. “There is an understanding that those who maybe are unemployed or are struggling with housing right now or are low-income families that when they get a fine, it is truly a hardship.”

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Previously, people could be barred from library services if they accumulated too many fines. Milach said this impacted a lot of young families.

“Parents of young children, you’re taking out 30 to 100 books especially if you have lots of children, and sometimes even just becoming a day late, all of a sudden, will rack up lots of fines,” Milach said.

The library system is also starting a “Pay It Forward” program to help fill the revenue gap getting rid of fines leaves behind.

Milach said the libraries are asking people for donations. The library system has also received grants and supplemental funding help from Dauphin County.

“How about you give a couple of dollars here and there throughout the year?” Milach said. “It would help to support our budget a little bit more.”

There are safeguards to make sure people don’t abuse the new system. After an item is overdue for 48 days, the person who checked it out will be billed the cost of the material. However, they can return those items up to a year after they are billed and the fees will be waived.

“If you’re repetitively keeping the item until it becomes charged and then return the item after the time that you get charged, then we will be barring people from library services,” Milach said.

She said she is not worried.

“That is not the majority of what we’ve seen and experienced. We have really seen that people do want to return their items on time and they’re not abusing the system because they appreciate what the library is able to offer,” Milach said.

abc27 reached out to library systems in Cumberland, Lancaster, York and Lebanon counties to see if they are pursuing similar policies.

Lebanon County Libraries executive director Michelle Hawk said they are not currently planning to go fine-free. While the topic is discussed, she said fines are too important as a source of revenue.

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York County Libraries president Robert Lambert said the next two years, the library system is considering getting rid of fines for children and letting teenagers and adults read or volunteer their fines away.