Valley Breeze

The Valley Breeze Pawtucket 08-07-2019

The Valley Breeze Newspapers serving the Northern Rhode Island towns of Cumberland, Lincoln, Woonsocket, Smithfield, North Smithfield, Pawtucket, North Providence, Scituate, Foster, and Glocester

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6 THE VALLEY AUGUST 7-13, 2019 | VALLEY BREEZE | PAWTUCKET EDITION Overdue and underfunded State's new automatic renewal system a win for some libraries, but others forced to pay up It's a familiar situation for most library patrons: You walk up to the counter with a book or DVD in hand only to find out you owe money on past overdue materials. The amount is usually small, typically only a few dollars. Thanks to a new automatic renewal system that went into effect last December, that situation is becom- ing less and less frequent at libraries across the state. Overdue books and other materials eligible for renewal now automatically renew as they approach their due date, bringing relief to patrons whose forgetfulness previously resulted in fines. The new system has streamlined the renewal process and led to better customer service, but it's also caused a steep drop in revenue collections for libraries that previously charged fines for all overdue materials. For most libraries, it's a small price to pay for the convenience, but some, most of them located within the state's urban core, are raising concerns as the new policy slashes funds they once depended on to buy new books and other materials. Susan Reed is the director of the Pawtucket Public Library, where the amount collected in fines has been cut nearly in half from about $45,000 in the 2017-2018 fiscal year to $23,000 in 2018-2019. It's a significant decline in a community where the annual city budget only covers a portion of the cost of new materials, with the library forced to make up the rest with rev- enue collected on overdue books. "A lot of it goes to buying DVDs and print material for children and adults," she said. "We don't have enough from the city, so the money we get from fines is helpful." While the automatic renewals are not the only culprit behind the declining revenue – fines, she said, have been down since the network started sending out reminder notifica- tions several years ago – it's the latest change in a system that increasingly favors patrons over cash-strapped libraries trying to enforce late fines on materials. In North Smithfield, Library Director Sue Dubois said she expects to collect about a third less in fines this year due to the automatic renew- al system and other factors, but she's not worried about the impact on the library's materials budget. The bud- get, she said, comes from a combina- tion of state aid and town funding with fundraising for some specific items conducted during the year. "I was never comfortable with fines to begin with," she said. "A lot of times it's used as incentive to bring things back which definitely helps, but to count on money based on people's behavior is probably not the way to go for budgeting purposes." Dubois serves as treasurer of the board of directors of Ocean State Libraries, the library consortium overseeing the interlibrary loan sys- tem in the state. Last November, consortium members took a vote as to whether or not the network should institute the new automatic renewal system as part of a software update. While a few members, including Pawtucket and Woonsocket, voted against the changes, the vast majority of members voted in favor, prompt- ing a network-wide change that went into effect Dec. 10 of last year. Overall, local library directors said the reaction has been positive as patrons have been able to focus less on fines and more on enjoying the library's services. In Cumberland, where the library requested addi- tional funds from the town this year to make up for a projected $5,000 revenue loss, Library Director Celeste Dyer said they're trying to change the library's image from a penny- pinching, silent one to a place where patrons feel comfortable. "You just don't want to keep having those same arguments about the quar- ter or the 10 cents," she said. "We knew it was going to impact our fines, but we thought the goodwill it would generate would be better." The same is true in Greenville, where a $3,500 drop in revenue over the past fiscal year hasn't stopped Library Director Dorothy Swain from seeing the new automatic renewal system as a win for patrons. "Our mantra here is public servic- es," she said. "If it's going to enhance that, then we're all for it." In some other municipalities, pen- ny-pinching might be the new normal if fine revenue continues to decline in the months ahead. In Pawtucket, Reed said she hasn't made her new materials purchases yet for 2019. But those purchases are coming, and with a smaller pot of revenue to work with, the decisions on what to keep and what to cut are going to be a little bit tougher than they were last year. According to Dubois, fine collec- tions in North Smithfield had already been declining due to the decision of several of the state's larger libraries, including the Warwick, Cranston, Providence Public and Providence Community Library systems, to stop collecting fines on some materials. Unlike the automatic renewal system, fine policies differ by community, and the library that owns the material determines the amount collected for a particular book. So a book returned late to a library that charges a late fine might not incur a penalty if it came by way of the interlibrary loan system from a library that does not. "It's always kind of a bone of con- tention at all our meetings," Dubois said about the differing fine policies. According to Warwick Library By LAUREN CLEM Valley Breeze Staff Writer See LIBRARIES, Page 15 BREEZE PHOTO BY ROBERT EMERSON VERA DEMARCO, of Cumberland, browses the racks at the North Smithfield Public Library on Monday afternoon. She said she knew about the auto-renewal program and uses it and other library programs often. She said that the library probably loses money because of auto-renewal, but she still insists on voluntarily paying fines and considers it her donation to the library. The Smithfield Avenue Nursery School The Smithfield Avenue Nursery School 514 Smithfield Avenue, Pawtucket, RI 02860 401-728-4470 Since 1966 Register NOW for the Fall Limited Openings Available Pre-School – Half Day & Extended Day Programs Four Star Bright Star Program Teacher/Child Ratio below State Ratio 1530 Mineral Spring Avenue, North Providence, RI 401-353-3805 & Music Learning Center LESSONS FOR ALL INSTRUMENTS New clients only. Restrictions apply. 1 FREE INTRODUCTORY LESSON We Rent Band Instruments! Gift Certificates Available (in the Luca Building)

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