It’s been over a year since the St. Paul Public Library system went fine-free. If someone returns a book late at any of the city’s libraries, they won’t be charged for it. The year-round change was established in December 2018.
Libraries in Carver County will soon test a similar, albeit more limited, program.
For about a year, officials have been planning a pilot program that would offer a fine-free week. In a recent library board meeting, officials voted in support for the program. Carver County commissioners and other officials have been notified of the implementation, said Heidi Hoks, Carver County Library director.
She said discussions came after watching Dakota County libraries provide an amnesty week. It allowed library-goers of all ages to bring late items back without a pricetag.
“(It’s) a wonderful project for goodwill and allowing those individuals who exceeded our fund limit to check out items, Hoks said. “It provides more equity of access.”
Each year, the Carver County library system sees about $75,000 a year in late fees. That’s compared to $300,000 in the Dakota County System, which has over 300,000 people more than Carver County.
In October, Carver County libraries held a fine-free month for teenagers with balances up to $10. All six libraries gave $10 coupons to teenagers for Teen Read Month.
On average, it waived $6.98 per teen. The most people helped was at the Chanhassen Library with 66 teenagers, followed by 30 served at the Waconia Library. Overall, $1,025 was forgiven.
It’s a number that’s increased steadily in recent years, according to library data. In 2018, Teen Read Month waiver fees totaled $1,068. In 2017, it was even less at $916, according to numbers from Paul Ericsson, Carver County Libraries branch manager.
In April, the library system will pilot its fine waiver project to “increase access by decreasing barriers to library use,” Hoks said.
It coincides with National Library Week, April 19 to 25.
The goal? To reduce every patron’s fees so they can use the library again.
The county’s library system is no stranger to going late fine-free. When the Carver County Library system began, Hoks said it was the only fine-free library in the metro. But it came with a catch.
“We were having trouble getting our books back,” she said.
So if the library system considers going completely fine-free, it’ll have to consider a few things.
“We want to take this very slowly, very methodically,” Hoks said. “It would be wonderful to go completely fine-free and libraries throughout the country look at that as something to which to aspire, but we want to be very careful to do it in a thoughtful way.”
Margaret Stone, director of the Dakota County Library system, said there are hiccups in going fine-free for their libraries too. But for them, it’s more about financials.
“Right now we’re not prepared to go in that direction. We don’t have a way to make up that revenue in (the) budget yet,” Stone said. “We need to do something, but right now we’re looking at different ways we can make up that revenue.”
In Carver County, for the past year, the library board has researching how to best approach a fine-free period, Hoks said. Research and data collecting will continue.
Regardless of the fine-free program, Hocks said the library system will continue to treat fines on a case-by-case basis.
“There are extenuating circumstances certainly that would impact a person’s fine,” she said, nodding to a house fire or even something less dramatic.
Those people are asked to contact branch managers or operations supervisors to work something out.
Candy Millerbernd of Chaska has two teenagers. Her family hasn’t heard of Carver County libraries’ fine-free month in October, but thinks they would check out more books if the library waived late fees.
“I sometimes forget to bring them back on time,” Millerbernd said. “Especially the movies sometimes are really expensive if you don’t return them on time.
Another Chaskan, Andy Rojas, just graduated from his teenage years and he hadn’t heard of the waiver month, either.
He typically uses the library for WiFi and a spot to study, but said he’d also be more likely to check out a book that didn’t come with late fees.
“I could keep the book as long as I wanted” Rojas said. “It would be convenient not to have them.”
Hoks just hopes the fine-free week in April will show similar success to the fine-free month.
“We want to encourage those teens to come back,” Hoks said.
“(The teen fine waiver month has) been very popular with our teens and it has gotten a lot of our teens to check out materials. It’s just an encouragement. We felt like that’s been an excellent way to get people back in the doors.”
Officials declared a public health emergency of “international concern” in late January after a new coronavirus strain was discovered.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Minnesota Department of Health don’t have estimates of how many people it has affected, but national news reports say the death toll has hit 1,000, since emerging in December.
Infections began in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China, and most cases are still associated with the area. The virus is thought to spread from person-to-person and has reached 28 countries.
The virus is not currently spreading in the United States, the CDC said, and local officials add it’s not causing worry in Minnesota.
“Right now, there’s basically minimal risk or concern for Minnesota, let alone Carver County,” said Richard Scott, director of health services with the county.
There are currently no cases in Minnesota, the MDH said. Nearby states with confirmed cases include Wisconsin and Illinois. Twelve people in the United States have confirmed viruses, with 68 cases pending.
The CDC states coronaviruses likely originate from animals like cats and cattle and can infect people, though rare. The 2019 strain is thought to have come from bats, evolving into Middle East Respiratory Syndrome and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.
The U.S. government suspended entry into the country from foreign nationals who’ve visited China in the weeks following the Jan. 30 public health emergency announcement, according to the White House.
The virus shows up in the form of a fever, cough and shortness of breath, the MDH said, but public health officials are still determining how fatal it is.
Other symptoms include muscle aches, diarrhea and headaches. The MDH said it likely spreads via respiratory droplets when a person coughs or sneezes.
Though the local risk is low, hospitals and emergency response are ready for the worst, Scott said.
There’s plenty of protective care for staff and patients, and hospitals are considering how to best set up stations to provide care should the need arise, Scott said. Public health officials are in contact with hospitals, physicians and other healthcare officials on a frequent basis, he said.
In addition, the public health department has been in daily correspondence with the MDH and CDC. Beyond that, there’s still some confusion around the virus.
“The coronavirus is a new virus,” Scott said. “They’re still always trying to determine how (it’s) spreading, what’s the incubation period, treatment.”
He said there’s no vaccine for this coronavirus and it’s unclear if the virus is responding to antiviral medications.
“Right now there is no recommendation in Minnesota to shut down events or anything like that because there are no confirmed cases here,” Scott added.
Elaine Arion, a patient care services official at Ridgeview Medical Center in Waconia, said the hospital is following the CDC and MDH’s guides for screening, isolation and care of potential patients.
“Ridgeview’s staff is trained to manage infectious diseases and proper use of personal protective equipment in addition to everyday prevention practices,” Arion said.
“This situation is being carefully monitored, and additional infection control guidance and updates are provided regularly.”
Suspect cases in Minnesota have proven negative. The more immediate concern, Scott said, is the flu.
“I’ve seen more people die from the flu really than what we probably anticipate with the coronavirus (locally),” he said.
To prevent spreading the flu, he recommends the tried-and-true methods: Covering your cough, staying home when ill, and calling the clinic with symptoms before showing up.