Valley Breeze

The Valley Breeze Woonsocket North Smithfield 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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20 THE VALLEY AUGUST 8-14, 2019 | VALLEY BREEZE | NORTH SMITHFIELD BLACKSTONE WOONSOCKET EDITION 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 signif- icant 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 revenue 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 noti- fications 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 auto- matic renewal system and other factors, but she's not worried about the impact on the library's materials budget. The budget, she said, comes from a combination of state aid and town funding with fundraising for some specific items conducted dur- ing 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 pur- poses." Dubois serves as treasurer of the board of directors of Ocean State Libraries, the library consor- tium overseeing the interlibrary loan system 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 mem- bers voted in favor, prompting 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 hav- ing those same arguments about the quarter or the 10 cents," she said. "We knew it was going to impact our fines, but we thought the good- will it would generate would be bet- ter." 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 auto- matic renewal system as a win for patrons. "Our mantra here is public ser- vices," she said. "If it's going to enhance that, then we're all for it." In some other municipalities, penny-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 deci- sions on what to keep and what to cut are going to be a little bit tough- er than they were last year. According to Dubois, fine col- lections in North Smithfield had already been declining due to the decision of several of the state's larg- er libraries, including the Warwick, Cranston, Providence Public and Providence Community Library systems, to stop collecting fines on some materials. Unlike the auto- matic 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 revenue, they also saw a corre- sponding rise in circulation as users who'd previously 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 read- ing 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 revenue doesn't necessarily mean a drop in funding unless the city decides to implement a correspond- ing budget cut. For now, LaRoux said, the city hasn't expressed any concern about the revenue decline, though he's not sure how city offi- cials would feel if the library decid- ed 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 deter- mine their town funding, it hasn't impacted their budget so far. In Woonsocket, however, the Harris Public Library has traditionally 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 revenue has seen a near-steady 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. North Smithfield Library Director, SUE DUBOIS, left, checks out books for KELSEY CARPENTER, of North Smithfield, who just heard about auto-renewal and has not had the opportunity to use it yet, but looks forward to using it in the future. LIBRARIES From Page One Continues on next page

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