Valley Breeze

The Valley Breeze & Observer 08-08-2019

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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SMITHFIELD SCITUATE FOSTER GLOCESTER EDITION | VALLEY BREEZE & OBSERVER | AUGUST 8-14, 2019 NORTH COUNTY 9 Library Director Dorothy Swain from seeing the new automatic renewal sys- tem 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 librar- ies, 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 Director Chris LaRoux, Warwick made the decision to go fine-free on children and teen materials last summer after seeing how the sys- tem worked in Cranston. Though Warwick saw a slight drop in fine rev- enue, they also saw a corresponding rise in circulation as users who'd pre- viously been blocked due to unpaid fines were once again able to take out materials. "We looked at our stats, and it was pretty shocking," he said. "There were, I believe, around 7,000 teens and children's cards that were blocked in Warwick. That's rather shocking because our goal, of course, was to instill a love of reading and get kids into reading at a younger age." The revenue decline continued as the automatic renewal system went into effect, but, due to the library's budget arrangement with the city of Warwick, the situation didn't cre- ate an immediate budget burden, LaRoux explained. The Warwick Public Library turns fines directly over to the city, so a drop in fine rev- enue doesn't necessarily mean a drop in funding unless the city decides to implement a corresponding budget cut. For now, LaRoux said, the city hasn't expressed any concern about the revenue decline, though he's not sure how city officials would feel if the library decided to change its fine policies for adult materials as well as children's. Other communities, such as Lincoln, use a similar system for submitting fine revenue to the towns. Lincoln Public Library Director Becky Boragine said the library has seen a decline in fine revenue since last December, but since the amount does not determine their town fund- ing, it hasn't impacted their budget so far. In Woonsocket, however, the Harris Public Library has tradition- ally incorporated fine revenue into its budget, relying on fines collected to purchase new materials and pay a part-time security guard. According to Library Director Leslie Page, fine rev- enue has seen a near-steady decline since 2014, though it's difficult to determine exactly how much of that is due to the latest policy change. "It's not through our fault that we're depending so much on our fines and fees. It's the financial status of our cit- ies and towns," she said. For library patrons, the new auto- matic renewal system is an easily overlooked convenience. Many of those interviewed said they hadn't noticed a change, but Joanne O'Connell, a resident of North Providence, said she was happy when it went into effect last year. O'Connell said she visits the North Providence Public Library at least once a week and also frequents others around the state, usually leaving with a stack of books or DVDs under her arm. "Every now and then, you miss something to bring back, so I think it's very generous of them," she said during a visit to the North Providence Library. In an age when the majority of interactions take place online, O'Connell added she thinks it's important for libraries to continue to stay relevant in their users' daily lives. She often uses the state's online library network to check the status of her materials and thinks the automat- ic renewal feature makes things easier for patrons like her. "I think the libraries have to make sure they stay relevant in the towns now," she said. "This is just one more thing they can do to be more user- friendly." Rhode Island isn't the only state moving toward an automatic renewal system. CW MARS, the library net- work that covers much of central Massachusetts, also instituted auto- matic renewal last month. Though it's too early to tell the effects, library directors of neighboring Massachusetts towns offered differ- ent expectations depending on their previous fine policies. In Blackstone, Library Director Lisa Cheever said the town has already done away with library fines, while in Bellingham, Library Director Bernadette Rivard said any potential revenue loss would not affect the materials budget, which is mandated by state law. Instead, the change could affect part-time posi- tions, which draw some funding from fine revenue. From preceding page

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