The standards describe best practices for achieving excellence.

Each standard has a short introductory section followed by a checklist. When pertinent, tables are available to provide libraries with information that has been compiled from the Colorado Public Library Annual Report, and when available, the National Public Library Report. As an aid in planning, the checklist provides a means by which library stakeholders can discuss and determine how their library has addressed or should address that standard. In some cases, libraries will surpass the recommendation; in others, libraries may find other ways to address that recommendation, or may decide that the recommendation is not relevant or meaningful in their community. It is recommended that Library Directors review each one of the standards by bringing them one by one to their board meetings throughout the year.




There are eleven standards to guide you in planning and operating your library. The introduction will assist you in understanding the full intent and purpose of the Colorado Public Library Standards.



The standards serve as an important tool in measuring a library’s success in fulfilling its stated mission and role in the community. This document is intended to spark debate, discussion, evaluation, planning, and action in all public libraries. The following principles guided the development:

  1. Consider the public library’s role in sustaining a civilized society.
  2. Value the public library’s role as a community learning institution.
  3. Understand the public library’s role as a reflection of cultural heritage.
  4. Recognize the diversity and uniqueness of libraries across the state.
  5. Understand the needs of the communities that libraries serve.
  6. Value intellectual freedom and access for all to information.
  7. Acknowledge the skills, talents, and contributions of library staff.


The goals of the standards are to:

  1. Promote quality library service to all Coloradans.
  2. Inform community users about what they can expect from their library.
  3. Assist library staff in connecting with the communities they serve.
  4. Provide an authoritative document to which library administrators and supporters may refer when justifying requests for funds.
  5. Assist library leaders in planning, administration, and professional development.
  6. The Colorado public library standards serve as models for services, resources, and information that are available in libraries across the state. They are not meant to stand by themselves; rather, they are intended to enhance local planning efforts crafted to identify service goals that will allow the library to respond to the unique interests and opportunities in its community while achieving a consistent standard of library offerings across the state.

The Standards and Colorado Library Law

Public libraries are established and maintained according to the provisions of the Colorado Library Law (§24-90-101 et seq) which provides a basic definition of a public library. This definition is used to determine eligibility for state funding for library materials, or when libraries receive funding or other services from the State Library. It is also used to determine which libraries are required to provide statistical data in compliance with state and federal requirements.

What are Standards?

The standards represent a snapshot in time. Library planning and operations are inherently fluid in responding to what is sometimes a rapidly changing social, fiscal, and
technological environment.

These standards can inform but do not replace a library’s strategic plan. While the standards attempt to identify current key issues, services, and best practices in Colorado public librarianship, they are not intended to be a detailed road map to each library’s future.

How to Use these Standards

As an aid in planning, the checklists provide the means by which library stakeholders canintrolibstandards discuss and determine how a library addresses or should address each standard category.

These checklists are not intended to be a one-size-fits-all set of elements that all libraries must meet. Some libraries now plan and carry out activities that exceed many or all of those listed, while others may be constrained by resources or circumstances in ways that make achieving many of the basic ones difficult. Every community is different. What is important is that the director, staff, board, and community constantly review where you are, where you want to be, and what it will take to get there. These checklists are intended to provide guidance for that journey.

Supplemental information, like associated webinars and videos, offer resources for addressing some sections. When pertinent, tables are embedded with state and national statistical data. Local libraries will need to decide how best to meet or exceed them for the benefit of their communities. The State Library offers consulting support and resources for meeting standards.

This resource is intended for use by librarians, boards, staff, governing officials, members of funding agencies, and community support groups involved in planning at the local level, and within the context of regional and state library services. For example, library directors may choose to review each standard by bringing them one by one to their board meetings throughout the year. Staff, community members, and other stakeholders are encouraged to attend these discussions about how the standards apply to their library.

Action Items and Next Steps

Ultimately, how library stakeholders view and adopt these standards will determine the actionable next steps important to planning and growing a library’s services and ideas on which to act. For instance, a list of small administrative to-dos, key policies, adjustments, or the need for a more thorough review of existing practices, etc. might turn up. A few major initiatives may float to the top of the planning priority list, such as outcomes that are more specific and metrics to measure progress. Examples may include the creation of a comprehensive risk management strategy that identifies a host of business assets and procedures for assuring their survival.

Definition of a Public Library in Colorado

The legislative declaration in the Library Law, CRS §24-90-102, states that it is the policy in Colorado to ensure equal access to information and materials. Section 105 of the Library Law directs the State Librarian to develop service standards to guide library development. Any entity wishing to be defined as a public library in Colorado must meet or exceed the following criteria:

Legal Responsibilities

Library Administration and Management

Access and Services

Resource Sharing

[1] e.g., board of county commissioners, city council, town board, or library board of trustees, as the context requires.


Outcome: The community will consistently have relevant, accurate, and current information to inform decision-making about areas important to their well-being and quality of life.

A public library assembles, organizes, presents, and makes easily and readily available a variety of print, non-print, and electronic materials and information. Collections need to be current, representative of all perspectives, dynamic and data-driven. Efforts are made to effectively present or “merchandise” the collection.

The collection must be continually updated to meet the changing needs and interests of the community. Materials are selected in anticipation of, as well as in response to, requests from library users. The library maintains a current collection of core reference materials. Decisions are based on budget, use, and turnover. Community members have a means by which they can participate in the selection of materials. Policies and procedures to effectively manage the collection shall be in place and shall reflect the library’s strategic plan and community needs.

Public library collections may include unique items that, when loaned through the library, make it economically feasible for community members to “try before they buy,” allowing sharing of resources at a community level. Some Colorado examples include maker spaces with equipment for idea exploration, creation, and experimentation; non-book/non-media, recreational material (e.g., bicycles, musical instruments, fishing poles, cake pans); educational equipment (telescopes, robots, microscopes); home tools (electricity use monitors, seeds, garden tools) and locally created content (e-books, music, audio stories, art).

Participation in regional and/or statewide resource sharing is encouraged. The library is a member of CLiC in order to participate in courier service, and benefit from discounts on library materials.

The quality of a library’s collection is measured by a variety of factors indicating use, currency, and appropriateness to the community.
The data includede in the tables here, provides information on what other libraries in Colorado, as well as other libraries nationally are reporting in terms of:

  1. materials’ expenditures per capita
  2. circulation per capita
  3. collection turnover.

These tables will assist you in determining the quantity of materials held per capita; however, it is also important to consider “quality” vs. “quantity” when making decisions about the collection. Thus, the data are meant to inform and be descriptive, not prescriptive.

Community Engagement

Outcome: The community is strengthened through the active facilitation and/or participation by the library in efforts to gather input, engage in meaningful discussions, and act in partnership to support community-wide growth and transformation. Library affiliates (friends and/or foundation organizations) are aligned to strengthen the connections between the library and the community.

The community is integral to any decision made concerning library operations. Libraries and communities have an interdependent relationship. Communities provide funding, opportunities to collaborate and advocate for the library’s work and role in meeting community needs. Libraries contribute to the economic health of the community, collect the memories of the community, and provide a place where people can explore, learn, access resources, share ideas, and be transformed. The library is also an asset that can be of great value when communityaddressing community-wide issues and opportunities.

The Library Governing Authority and staff search for opportunities to cooperate with other community organizations, including other libraries, governmental agencies, nonprofit organizations, and the private sector in order to embed librarians and library services in the community and ensure healthy communities that understand the value of libraries.

Library staff uses many means to reach out and partner with the community in order to stay knowledgeable and engaged. In addition, opportunities for community involvement within the library are available to volunteers. Cooperation may include sharing of resources, staff expertise, training opportunities, or other joint activities. Staff representation in other community organizations is essential in complying with this standard.

The library has a friends group and/or a foundation that assists the library with fundraising, advocacy, and outreach in the community during holidays. Resources from these organizations supplement rather than replace the library’s operating budget.

Community Engagement Checklist

  1. Embrace the importance of community-wide connections by meeting with and supporting local groups.
  2. Establish cooperative agreements between the library and other agencies for shared programs and services.
  3. Participate as an active member and leader (and host) of community groups.
  4. Recruit community volunteers for support as defined in the library’s written volunteer policy.
  5. Ensure that a staff person is responsible for volunteer coordination and training.
  6. Maintain a formal friends or foundation that meets on a regular basis with a library staff liaison present, and follow the national guidelines for the role of each.
  7. Involve library staff, friends and the community in long range plans and fundraising activities.
  8. Make clear distinctions about the responsibilities of the friends group or foundation, and keep funds raised by these groups separate; do not mix with normal operating expenses.
  9. Collect statistics and conduct research such as, customer surveys, community studies, citizen surveys, and other means appropriate to evaluate library services and resources.
  10. Use statistics and other data collection to communicate impact and relevance of library services to the community.
  11. Build “social capital[1]” through civic engagement.
Community Engagement Checklist – FUTURE-FOCUSED
  1. Convene community meetings involving multiple stakeholders to address community issues.
  2. Encourage community members to participate in conversations about issues that are important to them – beyond library services. Invite partners to work together on plans that address community needs from multiple perspectives.
  3. Collect, organize, and provide information about community groups and issues.
  4. Participate in (or convene) cooperative planning and programming with community groups. Share associated costs when feasible.
  5. Embed library staff in community commissions, boards, neighborhood groups, organizations, and chambers.
  6. Invite community groups and/or businesses to participate in volunteer activities.
  7. Recruit mentors to assist in programs, labs, STEAM/STEM, art and other community-focused activities.
    [1] Social capital refers to the value of social relations and the role of cooperation to achieve collective or economic results. Source: NC Public Library Standards, 2012.


Outcome: Library spaces offer the community a compelling invitation to explore, gather, learn, and engage, and ensure equitable access to resources through infrastructure and up-to-date technology.

Libraries serve as a platform for learning, inspiration, and innovation in their communities. Library facilities are designed to address these community needs. Carefully planned design allows for a wide range of purposes, including reading, studying, meeting, and playing that strengthen community identity and social bonds. The library is also a virtual space where e-content is readily available anytime and facilitiesanywhere. Facility management is driven by policies that address usage, maintenance, and improvement. Meeting room policies are perhaps the most litigious and should be carefully composed for clarity.

Library facilities are an anchor for economic development and neighborhood vitalization, strengthening community identity. Library staff assesses community priorities via an analysis or survey.

Library facilities should be safe, secure, comfortable, engaging, efficient, and inviting to allow for flexibility of service, growth, and changes in community priorities. Facilities should be designed to support the library’s long-range plan. Building size and spaces will vary by community size, community demand, and budget. Facilities should include space for quiet reading and reflection, and for small and large group meetings, with areas to create and innovate. Partnerships with other entities to accommodate these needs should be considered. It is important to think of sustainability when managing libraries or planning for additions or new buildings.

Libraries should provide safe and easy access to library services. A convenient method to return materials throughout the service area is important. Sufficient lighting, signage, and space to serve the public are essential. All safety and fire codes should be followed, along with proper ADA access.

Library staff, leadership, and governing authorities need to be aware of and accommodate changing technologies and community needs. Technology-refresh programs should be part of a facilities plan, along with proper connectivity and telecommunications infrastructure. A dedicated Internet connection with adequate bandwidth to meet the community’s size should be provided.

Facilities Checklist

  1. Meet current local safety and fire codes.
  2. Ensure accessibility to all members of the community, conforming to ADA standards.
  3. Seek the professional expertise of a library planner and/or library architect for any new construction or major remodeling.
  4. Dedicate expenditures for capital improvements and facility maintenance.
  5. Develop policies relating to effective public use of facilities, including a meeting room policy.
  1. Install signs in the community that direct people to the library.
  2. Provide a well-lit exterior with signage that clearly identifies the building from the street.
  3. Prominently post hours of operation outside the library.
  4. Maintain sufficient, well-lit parking located near or adjacent to the facility.
  5. Provide a convenient, safe book return location(s) during the hours the library is closed.
  1. Provide a well-designed interior that encourages self-directed use of the library.
  2. Offer adequate programming and space to fulfill the library’s stated mission and goals. Examples of space include:
    1. Storytime
    2. Study
    3. Quiet
    4. Public meeting
    5. Programming
    6. Accessing and utilizing materials
    7. Public computing
    8. Space to create individual content and projects
  3. Maintain separate areas for staff workspace(s) and breaks.
  4. Provide storage space.
  5. Allow easy access to electrical and cabling outlets to support current technology.
Facilities Checklist – FUTURE-FOCUSED
  1. Maintain usage statistics and compare them to space allocation standards to ensure library facilities meet community demands.
  2. Prepare long-range facility plans that address projected growth. Review the facility plan annually and revise at least every five years. Maintain written policies and guidelines necessary for maintaining and improving facilities.


Outcome: The community is well served by a library that is appropriately funded and transparently administered to best meet community needs.

Colorado public libraries are supported primarily by local tax revenues. The Library Governing Authority seeks and secures funding from public and private sources and monitors and expends these funds with integrity and to support the goals in the library’s strategic plan.

Many libraries have a separate Friends organization and/or Foundation with a 501©(3) status to manage donations for library projects, programs, or services. All fund-raising, grants, and donations shall be considered supplemental to local tax revenue.

Library districts follow fiscal procedures consistent with state law in preparing, presenting, and administering the budget. Unless exempted by state law, an annual audit of the library’s financial records is required. All libraries should have a financial plan.

Libraries earn the public trust by being accountable and transparent about the use of public money. Libraries are proactive in these responsibilities and demonstrate transparency by distributing and making information available on a consistent, reliable basis.


Outcome: The library is an efficiently managed community resource that provides high-value services through the effective stewardship of public funds.

Public libraries in Colorado are established by a municipal or county government or as a library district under Colorado Library Law. The Library Governing Authority adopts and provides oversight of budgets, supervises the library director, adopts policy, and sets strategic direction. The Library Governing Authority can be the library district governing board, city council, town manager, or other civic leadership.

Colorado recognizes two types of library boards, governing (in library districts) or advisory (in most city, county, municipal, and joint jurisdictions). The responsibilities of a library governing board are clearly defined in the Colorado Library Law. Conversely, a library advisory board gets direction from the Library Governing Authority and represents the community by advising the library director.

The library advisory board’s responsibilities will vary from city to city and county to county; however, both library governing and advisory boards have the responsibility to advocate for the library, to identify community priorities, to follow state and national laws applicable to libraries, and to plan for the future of the library. In order to stay current and informed, both the library director and the library governing or advisory Board participate in activities sponsored by state and national library organizations.

The library director and staff apply practical and acceptable management practices and standards to the daily operations of the library. These practices are clearly defined in a set of policies adopted by the Library Governing Authority, which are made available to the public. Hiring and evaluating a library director is one of the Library Governing Authority’s most important duties. To prevent all-too-common conflicts resulting from the confusion between governing and managing, a library governing board needs a policy stating that human resource administration—including hiring, supervision, evaluation, and termination of all library staff—is delegated to the library director. The library director provides a regular report as a part of the board meetings to the city, county, or district, which is the legal employer, acting by and through the Library Governing Authority.

The library director is responsible for creating and updating a procedures manual to carry out all policies. The library director manages the library on a daily basis by planning, organizing, and directing services for all people in the community. The library director measures and evaluates the effectiveness of library services in relation to the changing needs of the community. The Library Governing Authority and director seek to serve library users and improve library services through continuous communication with their communities.

Human Resources

Outcome: Library leaders will be able to mitigate risk and consistently foster a healthy and effective work environment, ultimately better serving their communities and ensuring a positive patron experience.

The human resources standard for public libraries includes three elements: general policies needed to handle employment for the library, guidelines concerning staffing, and plans for professional development.

The Library Governing Authority is responsible for policy oversight. The library director is responsible for policy implementation, paying attention to legal issues, professionalism, and employee well-being. A director with a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) degree has completed a program that teaches the skills needed to manage library operations. The board should consider this degree and experience when hiring a director.

As institutions of learning, libraries create a “culture of learning,” not only for their community but also for the library staff and trustees. Creating a learning culture for all staff and trustees is an ongoing effort. Professional development opportunities for staff are a key part of maintaining this learning culture.

Marketing, Communications, and Advocacy

Outcome: Community members are kept informed of the library’s activities and value to actively support library initiatives.

The library board, library director, and library staff communicate, advocate for, and promote the library and its services, utilizing traditional communications methods, as well as the most current and effective ways of reaching target audiences. The library follows a well-planned and executed marketing, communications, and public relations strategy to promote library services, resources, and value regularly to the public.

The mission and vision of the library, as defined in the library’s strategic plan, are communicated to stakeholders in ways that illustrate how the library is an essential community service.

The overall goal of the marketing, communications, and public relations plan is to inform the public about ways the library meets the fundamental needs of the community. To this end, the plan includes a strong public image, as well as how library staff will identify, reach, and meet the needs of community members.

Board members and directors play a vital role in lobbying for legislative issues that affect libraries. Knowledge of laws affecting libraries, including limits to lobbying is addressed in the Fair Campaign Practices Act.


Outcome: Develop effective and sustainable library operations and tangible community benefits from well-planned library services, technologies and facilities.

Library planning is a process of imagining the future of the community and the library and setting a direction for getting there. A formal strategic plan ensures that the library will provide efficient, cohesive, and effective operational results that meet the community’s needs while maintaining fiscal responsibility.

Planning is a continuous process. It requires surveys and analysis of library and societal trends, determining community needs and current services, with qualitative and quantitative measures to conclude if the work is successful. Appropriate time and necessary funds must be allocated in the library’s budget to implement the planning process.

Input is gathered from all external library stakeholders as well as the Library Governing Authority, and all levels of staff. This feedback serves as the basis for the vision, mission, and values of the library that guide the development of goals, objectives, and strategies that need to be accomplished; ultimately, the final plan is communicated to the community and the budget is aligned with the plan. Success is defined in the plan and locally determined by staff documentation, community feedback and governing oversight.

There are many methods to consider in undertaking a strategic plan. Preliminary research is critical to understand what will work best. (See planning resources at the Colorado State Library and LRS.)

Resource Sharing

Outcome: Community members will benefit from greater access to resources through sharing with other libraries and are aware of what the library offers beyond the traditional print collection.

Colorado has a long and rich history of resource sharing because all libraries are stronger when they work together. Colorado libraries
are collaborative in many ways, not just within the public library sphere, but also with school, academic, special libraries, and community organizations.

As libraries encourage our patrons to be independent in their library transactions, it is important to consider how to empower them in that process. Libraries that work cooperatively and participate with others in statewide, regional and consortial programming, share resources locally and strengthen the availability of services for all Coloradans. Besides borrowing materials from others through the state’s Interlibrary Loan (ILL) services, it is important to make the library’s own materials discoverable to join others as a lender as well.

Services and Programming

Outcome: The community is enriched by programs and services that offer formal, informal, and self-directed learning opportunities for all ages and abilities.

Library directors have the responsibility to hire well-qualified staff that will provide meaningful services and programs to all members of the community.

Services and programs are offered free of charge to everyone in the library’s service area services are accessible by all. Continuous evaluation is essential to assure that programs and services are effective and accessible, and meet the diverse needs and interests of everyone in the community.

Libraries serve as lifelong learning centers with education being an essential part of their mission. In this role, the library actively commits time and resources to coordinate literacy activities at all levels. Family literacy programs, for example, are essential to maintaining or improving student reading skills. Providing resources and services to assist with employment skills, digital inclusion, and economic development is increasingly important. Early literacy, including programs and services for babies, toddlers, and their caregivers, is a unique and vital library offering to the community.

Keeping the library current and relevant to those who use it involves creating platforms for social experiences, offering opportunities for community members to create their own projects, content, and learning experiences. These are all vital aspects of the library’s services and programming.

Services and Programming Checklist

  1. Adopt relevant policies that emphasize welcoming and effective services and programs for all segments of the community.
  2. Provide basic services free of charge to everyone in the service population as defined by written policies governing lending, borrowing, and circulation.
  3. Adopt written policies on the use of public meeting spaces.
  4. Assist with or serve as a custodian of local history or community memory.
  1. Offer services that meet the needs of the demographics of the community, including special populations, some of which may not use the library.
  2. Offer services that include a circulating collection, public technology, programming for all ages, and a community meeting space.
  3. Train and develop staff members to offer effective services to the public during all hours the library is open, and in other locations, using competencies developed by library associations and agencies.
  4. Offer assistance to the public during all hours the library is open in the use of technology, circulation, and access to materials.
  5. Provide reference, reader’s advisory, and technology services to all ages.
  6. Offer developmentally appropriate collections, programs, and services for babies, toddlers, preschoolers, school-aged children, and teens. Specific guidance and competencies are available at CLEL, ALSC, and YALSA.
  7. Provide current information to patrons about children’s, adult, and/or family literacy programs offered by the library.
  8. Provide current information on agencies and organizations with programs of interest to patrons.
  1. Provide interactive, age-appropriate programs for all. Typical programs include:
    1. Reading programs for all ages, including early literacy and summer learning programs.
    2. Outreach that integrates the library as a vital part of the community.
    3. Lifelong learning for all community members.
    4. Literacy programming and/or space or referrals for other agencies to teach literacy classes.
    5. Resources and services to help with job skills and economic development.
  2. Actively involve community leaders in program planning.
  3. Provide inclusive programs and services for community members of all ages, abilities, genders, ethnicities, income levels, etc.
  4. Provide programs at times and locations convenient for the intended audience.
Services and Programming Checklist – FUTURE-FOCUSED
  1. Evaluate all services and programs at regular intervals based on input, output, and outcome measures.
  2. Provide library outreach to various populations in locations where they are.
  3. Provide a variety of spaces for formal, informal, group, and individual study.
  4. Leverage local community members and partners in planning and implementing programs.
  5. Offer programs and literature in languages spoken in the community.


Outcome: Libraries utilize technology to support the missions, visions, and goals of their organizations, resulting in well-informed decisions and efficient, effective library operations and services.

Technology is an institutional asset, as important to the delivery of patron services as the library building. It serves as a basic part of the infrastructure and is integrated at all levels of the library organization. Technology is a key asset delivering on the library’s promise to serve as a community hub, information access point, and cultural center.

Technology is a tool, not a goal. Technologies and systems implemented in libraries should be designed, selected, or implemented to serve the needs of patrons and staff in constructive, effective, innovative, and sustainable ways.

Technology decisions are based on sound research and thoughtful planning. Technology requires investment in qualified staff to support the infrastructure. Technology integrates with and supports all other standards featured in this document, including collections, facilities, finance, planning, resource sharing, and services.

It is important to think of investing in technologies in the same way that a library invests in its physical structures, staff, and collections. A library that fails to sustain a dependable technology infrastructure or does not adapt to evolving technologies will find itself ill-equipped to effectively serve the community or to fulfill the standards identified in this document. Because technology is a necessary part of library operations and is a service to the public, this section is longer and more detailed than previous sections.


Under each Standard, we have collected webinars, articles, and other trainings that highlight best practices. Some of the webinars listed here have been produced in states other than Colorado. State laws, including how they pertain to public libraries, vary from state to state, so please direct questions regarding your specific circumstances to your city, county or library district attorney. This resource list is not intended to serve as legal advice.

Training related to Collections:

Weeding Isn’t Sexy, But It Should Be

Weeding is a lot like Fight Club…we don’t like to talk about it. As libraries evolve into community spaces that encourage creativity and participatory experiences, it becomes more and

Dewey or Don’t We?: Transitioning to a Deweyless Library

(Note: We had brief audio issues at the very beginning of the session.) Have you heard about “The Bookstore Model” and wondered what all the fuss is about? Are you ready to ditch

Training related to Community Engagement:

Bonding with Your Community: How to Craft Your Library Story

“It was a pleasure to burn.” So starts Fahrenheit 451, with a frightening glimpse into a dystopian future — where a fireman’s only calling is to torch books. As a library

Engaged, Embedded, and Enriched Creative Community Connections

As libraries seek to redefine themselves in a new information age, libraries must develop strategies for engaging with the community. Traditional programs and services are no longer

Training related to Finance

Budget Basics Presentation: Basics of Colorado statutory and other requirements for local government budgets.

Training related to Facilities

Public Library Facilities Projects 101: An illustration of the process for construction of a public library project (Ohio).

Training related to Governance

What Every Trustee Should Know: Tips from the author of the Handbook for Library Trustees of NY State (New York)

Training related to Human Resources

Transitioning from Sage on the Stage to Engaging Learning: Tips and tricks for presenting to adults

Tired of attending the same old presentations? Want to learn how to truly engage with your audience? Whether delivering presentations online or in person, attendee interaction and engagement

Training related to Marketing and Advocacy

Graphic Design 101

Learn to entice your patrons and promote your programs with eye-catching, contemporary web and print materials. As well as the basic principles of design, why your library needs a brand, and how to

Graphic Design 101

Learn to entice your patrons and promote your programs with eye-catching, contemporary web and print materials. As well as the basic principles of design, why your library needs a brand, and how to

Bonding with Your Community: How to Craft Your Library Story

“It was a pleasure to burn.” So starts Fahrenheit 451, with a frightening glimpse into a dystopian future — where a fireman’s only calling is to torch books. As a library

Bonding with Your Community: How to Craft Your Library Story

“It was a pleasure to burn.” So starts Fahrenheit 451, with a frightening glimpse into a dystopian future — where a fireman’s only calling is to torch books. As a library

Training related to Planning

Get ‘er Done! Using 4DX® to Achieve Your Most Important Goals

Originally published in 2012, “The 4 Disciplines of Execution” presents a structured way to ensure that every employee is engaged and successfully working towards an organization’s

Places that Serve Us Well Every Day, Serve Us Best When Disaster Strikes

Well poised to disseminate public information, libraries have served as emergency shelters, cooling centers during heat waves, sites for blood drives and inoculations, and a place to fill out

Training related to Services and Programming

Growing Readers Together: Early Literacy Services Beyond Your Library

Your library has a thriving storytime program, strong collection of board and picture books, perhaps parenting classes, and other services to support young families inside your library, but now you

Library Services: Making the atypical, typical

Does your library offer unusual services? Is there a population in your community that you are finding hard to reach? Is there an innovative program that you would love to try? We all know that

Summertime Outreach: Bringing Summer Learning into the Community

Your public library is packed with kids during the summer, and that is excellent! Research shows that those children benefit from your library’s many strong enrichment activities, staff

Helping Homeschoolers

Public libraries are a natural resource for homeschooling families: library staff expertise, spaces, collections, and programs are a critical component of effective homeschooling. But what are

Partners for STEAM in Libraries: Joining Forces to STEAM Ahead Further and Faster

Do you wish to expand your STEAM (Science, Tech, Engineering, Arts, Math) programming but not sure how to move forward? Do you seek to collaborate with STEAM-oriented individuals and organizations in

Training related to Resource Sharing

A Heads Up for the Interim

As we say goodbye to Arian – our Book Club Guru and all-round Girl Friday, we want to assure Book…

Friday Grab Bag, September 1, 2017

Friday Grab Bag is a weekly Spotlight on Sharing series that highlights fun, unique, and interesting happenings in Colorado libraries,…

A Message to You

Dear wonderful libraries who use the Book Club Resource service, This post is to let you know that today is…

Friday Grab Bag, August 25, 2017

Friday Grab Bag is a weekly Spotlight on Sharing series that highlights fun, unique, and interesting happenings in Colorado libraries,…

Outside the Lines 2017

During the week of September 10–16, 2017, libraries from nearly every continent will participate in Outside the Lines (OTL), an annual…

Training related to Technology

Restarting your Relationship with your IT Department (and Vice Versa)

Have you tried turning it off and back on? Is it unplugged? Is the Internet down? Why can’t I just download it myself? Do these questions define your relationship with your IT department (or

Partners for STEAM in Libraries: Joining Forces to STEAM Ahead Further and Faster

Do you wish to expand your STEAM (Science, Tech, Engineering, Arts, Math) programming but not sure how to move forward? Do you seek to collaborate with STEAM-oriented individuals and organizations in

Maker MacGyver: School and Library Makerspaces on a Shoestring Budget

Makerspaces and maker programs in libraries don’t have to cost or fortune or require you to be a tech wizard, super hacker, or evil genius in order to be successful. All you really need is an

Digital Literacy for Everyone: Going from Tech Averse to Tech Savvy

Looking for ways to get you and your staff up to speed? If you can figure out Dewey, you can figure out Windows! This CSL In Session offers practical tips, tools, and techniques to help bridge

Geek is the New Chic: Engaging Teens in Libraries with Technology

 Are you looking for ways to engage teens in your library using technology? Is your staff intimidated by both teens and technology? Have you hosted successful technology programs 


A project of this magnitude is accomplished only with the dedication of a number of contributors throughout the state. The following committee members contributed their valuable time to accomplish the task of reviewing, updating, and/or rewriting the Colorado Public Library standards. I extend many thanks and much gratitude to the following Colorado library leaders and Colorado State Library staff.

Library Leaders

Colorado State Library

Lastly, thank you to the other state library organizations whose publications were reviewed and helped in the development of this document.

Jacqueline Murphy,
Senior Consultant for Public Libraries and Community Development, Colorado State Library

Removing Barriers toAccess: Eliminating Library Fines andFees on Children’s Materials

3AbstractThe Supporting Parents in Early Literacy through Libraries (SPELL) researchrevealed that library fines and fees for overdue, damaged, and lost materialsare barriers that prevent low-income parents and caregivers of young childrenfrom using public libraries. After reviewing the academic and professionalliterature regarding library fines and fees, including qualitative research,quantitative studies, and editorial pieces, as well as using finding from the twostudies with parents and public libraries in Colorado, the Colorado State Library(CSL) recommends public libraries eliminate fines and fees on children’smaterials. The scant research on the value and impact of library fines and feesdoes not indicate a clear benefit of administering these policies, and they maybe costly to enforce. Library governing authorities that develop policies toremove fines and fees on juvenile material find it effective in building a positiverelationship with families with young children.

Public libraries play a vital role in the development of early literacy skills ofchildren and families in the communities they serve; storytimes and otherprogramming give librarians an opportunity to teach parents of young childrenthe importance of reading, writing, singing, talking and playing with theirchildren. Thoughtfully developed children’s collections are available forborrowing by families, particularly those that might not have the householdincome needed to purchase them. Unfortunately, while children’s librariansencourage all parents and their children to avail themselves of the collection,the policies of many libraries are doing just the opposite.The threat of accumulating fines for overdue materials and the feesassociated with damaged or lost books is keeping low-income families awayfrom libraries, or from checking out items to take home (Zhang, 2013). Whetherthe intended function of library fines and fees is to encourage the prompt returnof materials, to supplement the library budget, or to teach patrons responsibility,overdue fines and replacement fees on children’s materials can negativelyaffect the borrowing habits of members of our community who need the librarythe most (Zhang, 2013).This white paper reviews the scant research on the costs and benefits oflibrary fines and fees, summarizes the professional editorials on the subject, andasserts that these financial costs, particularly for children’s materials, may be more detrimental than beneficial to libraries with goals of meeting communityliteracy needs. Early evidence from Colorado libraries that have changedpolicies to be more accommodating of late, lost, and damaged materials offersadditional evidence to justify these recommendations.Literature ReviewLibrarians have been discussing, and in some instances debating, thepropriety of charging fees for late, lost or damaged materials for decades. Areview of the professional and academic literature reveals only a handful ofsmall-scale studies of the effect of library fines on the borrowing behavior oflibrary users (Breslin & McMenemy, 2006; Hansel, 1993; Burgin & Hansel, 1984;Burgin & Hansel, 1991; Reed, Blackburn & Sifton, 2014; Smith & Mitchell, 2005). Inabsence of empirical proof of the effectiveness of fines and fees, there exists alargely philosophical conversation in the literature with many authors in favor ofeliminating fines and fees–at the very least for children’s materials–and focusingon the inequitable access to materials for low-income families (Caywood, 1994;Chelton, 1984; DeFaveri, 2005; Holt & Holt, 2010; Livingston, 1975; Venturella,1998).

Library Fines and Circulation Rates

While it is challenging to study the effect of library fines and fees oncirculation patterns, a few researchers have attempted to do so. In 1981,Hansel and Burgin (1983) sent a survey to all public libraries in North Carolina todiscern which circulation activities affected overdue rates over threeyears. They found no significant difference in overdue rates between librariesthat charged fines and those that did not; and libraries that did not charge finestended to have higher overdue rates in the short run, but lower overdue rates inthe long term. Reflecting on their research, the authors stated “with overdues, aswith so many aspects of librarianship, there are no easy answers–that seems tobe the primary finding of the study” (Hansel & Burgin, 1983, p. 350).Perhaps unsatisfied with the “no easy answers” conclusion in their firstattempt, Burgin and Hansel replicated their study in 1983 and 1990. The 1983study revealed much the same data as the 1981 survey, but added a newresult: the amount of the fine charged by a library had a significant correlationwith the overdue rate–low fines did not reduce overdue rates, but steep onesdid (Burgin & Hansel, 1984). In the third study, the authors concluded “In short, itappears that few strategies used by the libraries in the present survey had anysignificant effect on overdue rates” (Burgin & Hansel, 1991, p. 65). As diligent asthey were, in three research projects over fifteen years, these authors could notuncover data to support the assumption held in the profession that theexistence of nominal fines is a successful incentive to patrons to return materials on time; and only very steep fines seem to have had any significant effect onoverdue occurrences.While not conducted in a public library environment, Mitchell and Smith’s(2005) experiment in an academic library is worth noting. They attempted todetermine whether rewards, rather than punitive fines, affected the timely returnof academic library materials. Even the presence of rewards as incentives didnot influence the promptness, or lack thereof, of students in returningmaterials. Also in academia, librarians at Vancouver Island University removedfines to determine if this might improve use of the physical collection by theirstudent population of non-traditional, adult and first generation students (Reed,Blackburn & Sifton, 2014). The authors reported the removal of overdue fines didnot increase circulation, but the collection wasn’t “pillaged,” and there was noincrease in overdue items. The authors believe “fines are a contentious topicamong librarians, with many strongly held beliefs about their effectivenessbacked by little evidence” (p. 275).In seeking to determine why borrowing rates were down in libraries in theUnited Kingdom, Breslin and McMenemy (2006) conducted a survey of patronsand found that library rules, restrictive hours and “not feeling welcome” were allfactors in the decline. Clayton and Chapman (2009) reported on a survey ofpublic libraries in England and Wales. Like Burgin and Hansel, these authorsfound a lack of published research on the attitudes toward, and theeffectiveness of, fines and fees in public libraries. Instead, they highlighted a
lack of consensus in the profession as to the effectiveness of chargingfines. They reported that over 81% of the libraries responding to the survey didnot charge fines for children’s materials and concluded “it is difficult to reachany definite conclusion as to the impact of fines on library usage and image.There is an urgent need for more research in this field, particularly studies whichinvestigate the opinions of library users and nonusers” (Clayton & Chapman,2009, p. 15).Colorado State Library’s (CSL) SPELL research (Zhang, 2013), funded by theInstitute of Museum and Library Services, included distribution of surveys in 2013to caregivers of young children in low-income urban and rural areas ofColorado. In addition to learning about library habits among this group, CSLwas interested to learn what barriers prevented low-income families with youngchildren from visiting the library. Along with transportation and scheduling issues,respondents to the survey identified library fines as a one of the “things that getin the way” of their use of the library (Zhang, 2013, p. 17). Further anecdotalstories in focus groups with low-income parents in the study reveal that bothfines for late items and fees for lost or damaged books make parents reluctantto check out books and to have their children enjoy library books at all.Neuman and Celano (2004) conducted a study examining the influenceof school and public libraries on young children’s literacy skills. They foundlibraries in economically disadvantaged areas of the community hadsignificantly lower circulation rates than middle class neighborhoods. Using ethnographic research methods, including interviews and observation, theydiscovered “many families in low-income areas did not own a library card, or ifthey did, family members were reluctant to check out books because theyfeared having to pay overdue fines” (p. 83). The traditional practice of charginglate fees has left a lasting impression on the very people who most needlibraries: community members who are economically disadvantaged, manywith young children at home.In summary, the library profession lacks data to support the argument thatthe presence of fines for overdue materials positively influences return rates onmaterials. In addition, a few research studies conclude that circulation ratesamong low-income families are lower due to the presence of library fines andfees. With such inconclusive evidence of the value of fines and indicators ofthe negative effects, the 1984 Library Journal editorial titled "What Are Fines for?"could have been written today:In the absence of circulation, delinquency, collection turnover, andcollection loss rates by age group, it is impossible to say whetherany particular library is achieving this goal or not, especially if thereare no data showing trends in these rates prior to theimplementation of a fine system. Discussion of the spurious issuesseems to rise in direct proportion to the absence of data toexamine the third (Chelton, 1984, p. 868).One is left to conclude that policy decisions surrounding the collection oflate fees from patrons cannot be supported by hard data. Policies surroundingoverdue materials, especially children’s materials, must be based on carefulconsideration of the role of libraries in the community and the lives of its members. There is no shortage of articles, editorials and other opinion pieces onthis subject in the library profession’s literature.Professional Discussion on Fines and FeesLibrary Fines and Civic ResponsibilitySome community members, including librarians, staff, administrators, andusers of libraries, believe that fines for late materials function to provide equalaccess to materials by encouraging patrons’ sense of civic responsibility. Theirphilosophy is that the threat of fines teaches borrowers to return material on timeso that others may access the collection. In his Library Review editorial “OnLibrary Fines: Ensuring Civic Responsibility or an Easy Income Stream?”,McMenemy (2010) examined both sides of the argument, and he concluded “Itseems to me they serve a vital function for any library that requires efficient andequitable circulation of stock” (p. 81). Jerome (2012) addressed the issue withpassion in “Occupy the Library. Fines: A Manifesto.” When she was a youngerlibrarian, she believed that libraries should not charge fines, but she nowbelieves that not charging for late material, or adjusting them for certainportions of the population, has lead to a sense of entitlement in patrons. Bywaiving fines for some borrowers, libraries are denying other communitymembers access to those materials that are late. She asks “How ‘right’ is it to let a few essentially take advantage of the rest?” (p. 7). Both authors emphasizethat the collection is for all members of the community, and the threat of finesserves as an incentive for the prompt return of materials that can then be usedby other community members.Many opponents to library fines disagree with the socializationargument. They believe it is the job of parents, not libraries, to socialize children,and charging fines on children’s materials is punitive and a barrier to access. Inher article “Penny Wise, Pound Foolish,” Caywood (1994) emphasized this point:Some librarians argue that fines teach children responsibility. This isan ironic view since it often is the parent–if not the child–whodecides if they can return to the library by the due date. I havewatched some parents become so incensed over a child’s finesthat they forbade library use. I don’t know whether these kids arelearning responsibility, but I’m certain they are not learning toregard the library as a welcoming place (p. 44).In an analysis of this topic, faced with a hypothetical situation in which alibrarian feels uncomfortable about collecting late fees from an adolescentborrower, Galloway (1984) asked “Since when is it the duty of librarians to teachkids responsibility?” (p. 869). In the same discussion, Chelton (1984) cast doubt atthe “predictable, spurious socialization arguments” with the query: “if the purposeof fines is socialization, how does one justify fines for adults, who are presumablyalready socialized?” (p. 869).At a time when the role of libraries in the community is under examination,it is time to move away from the traditional notion of libraries as quiet institutionswith authoritarian rules of behavior where children learn to fear incurring
fines. Instead, library staff can leave the socializing of children to parents, andprovide the tools parents need to foster literacy skills in their children withoutthreat of financial retribution for small infractions to rules.Fines, Fees and the Library’s BudgetIn some library systems, funds generated by fines and fees supplementlibrary budgets. McMenemy (2010) highlights income generation lessening thetax burden on the community as one of the reasons people advocate for thesecharges (p. 79). Those who disagree with this notion argue that administrativecosts associated with collecting fines and fees can surpass the revenue theygenerate. Vernon Area Public Library (Illinois) is just one library that haseliminated overdue fines and fees that amounted to less than one percent oftheir budget and cost far more to collect (Pyatetsky, 2015).High Plains Library District (Colorado) eliminated late fines on librarymaterials and found the financial repercussions to be “neutral” because theywere able to eliminate costly credit card technology on their self-checkmachines (J. Reid, personal communication, April 26, 2016). Staff time andmoney-collecting technology are expensive, and when the amount generatedby charging fines is compared to the costs associated with collecting them, itbecomes clear charging fines for revenue may not make sense.

Fines, Fees, and Low-income Populations

In 2012, the ALA issued a policy statement, “Library Services to the Poor,“that called upon libraries to acknowledge the important role they can play in"enabling poor people to participate fully in a democratic society” (ALA, 2012,para. 1). Libraries are encouraged by the ALA to promote “the removal of allbarriers to library and information services, particularly fees and overduecharges” (para. 2). The ALA joins many members of the library community in theopinion that charging library fines for materials, while equal treatment, is not fairbecause the practice disproportionately affects low-income members of oursociety.The idea that charging fines is unfair to children, especially those who arefrom low-income families, is not new. In 1975, the King County Library System’sChildren’s Services Department Committee on Fines presented a proposal toeliminate fines for overdue materials to the King Country (Washington)administration. They advocated for removing fines on children’s materials,discussed other libraries that had removed fines without negatively affectingcirculation patterns, and they were adamant about the negative effect onborrowing among low-income families:We feel that fines are not justifiable theoretically or practically foreither adults or children, however we feel that they are particularlydamaging to children’s attitudes to and use of the library. Webelieve that children have a right to use the library independent of their parents’ financial pressures and that fines discourage libraryuse particularly among children (Livingston, 1975, p. 80).The administration rejected the proposal, despite the passionate support ofcommittee members and librarians.Over forty years later, the library profession is still divided on fines (andfees) on children’s material, and the policies of many institutions still includethese practices. For example, in San Jose, California, libraries raised their fines to50 cents per item, per day. In poor neighborhoods, almost one-third of theresidents were barred from using the library because of unpaid fines (Pogash,2016). An elementary school principal interviewed about the San Jose libraries’policy stated that fines are a “slap on the wrist” for middle income families, but ifforced to choose between paying library fines “and putting food on the tableand a roof over the children’s heads, it’s a no-brainer: it’s better not to check outlibrary books” (para. 18). Thus, treating all library patrons equally by assessing afine for late materials is inequitable: it disproportionately affects low-incomefamilies.With regard to fees for lost items, in “Breaking Barriers: Libraries and SociallyExcluded Communities,” DeFaveri (2005) described a situation in which a motherwas charged $25.00 for a lost picture book. The author asks members of ourprofession to contemplate the long-term consequences of choosing to collect $25 in the short term: Will this family be comfortable returning to the library?
If the library does not charge for the damaged book, it loses about$25.00. When the library fails to recognize situations where chargingreplacement costs means losing library patrons, it loses theopportunity to participate in the life of the patron and patron’sfamily. By choosing to make a $25 replacement cost moresignificant than the role the institution can play in the social,developmental, and community life of the family, the library forfeitsits role as a community and literacy advocate and leader.It will cost the library more than $25.00 to convince this mother toreturn to the library. It will cost the library more than $25.00 topersuade this mother that the library is a welcoming communityplace willing to mount literacy programs aimed at her children, whowill not benefit from regular library visits and programs. And whenthese children are adults, it will cost the library more than $25.00 toconvince them that the library is a welcoming and supportive placefor their children (DeFaveri, 2005, para. 20-22).DeFaveri also discussed the ingrained nature of fines, and she called forlibrarians to understand that they affect different populations differently:Fines, replacement costs and processing fees are affordable for themiddle class, but represent significant and often overwhelmingcosts for poor people. As a result, poor patrons with fines over$10.00 who cannot pay the fines are excluded from accessinglibrary resources. This barrier to library use has short and long-termconsequences for the library and the community it serves” (para.17).In agreement with DeFaveri, Venturella (1998) emphasized the leadership andadvocacy roles of libraries. She argued that overdue fines are a burden to low-income library users, and she insisted “It is a moral imperative that we beresponsive to the needs of the community” (p. 33).The ALA urges libraries to play a significant role in supporting low-incomeusers as valued members of our society. Children’s librarians encourage parentsto use the library and teach them how to grow early literacy skills in their young children. Yet, as Holt and Holt (2010) observed, “Reacting to fines and the costof lost books, or just fearing such expenses, parents and caregivers in poorfamilies may make a rational decision to not allow their children to a get alibrary card or to check out books that might get lost” (p. 51). The SPELL research(Zhang, 2013) confirms this assertion.Removing Fines and Fees in Public LibrariesSome public libraries across the United States are changing their policiesand seeing little difference in their circulation statistics and, more importantly,improving the library experience of community members. In Pyatetsky’s (2015)opinion piece “The End of Overdue Fines?” she suggested the act of eliminatinglibrary fines is becoming more widespread and accepted. Algonquin PublicLibrary (Illinois) removed fines; at the one year anniversary of the policy change,they saw no negative effects. Witnessing this, Vernon Public Libraries in thenorthwest Chicago suburbs followed suit (Pyatetsky, para. 2, 2015).After determining that charging fines was costing more than the revenueit brought in, Gleason Public Library (Illinois) stopped charging fines and saw nosignificant difference in the amount of time people were keeping materials(West, 2012). The library director, Angela Mollet, said having a “fine-free” policywas in keeping with the library’s mission: “What role do fines play in a library? Iwant to encourage people of all ages to read, to discover, to be curious, and itdoesn’t make sense to put up any barriers that might prevent that” (West, 2012, para. 29). The staff and trustees at Gleason Public Library placed emphasis onremoving obstacles to accessing materials, especially for children.Some libraries offer innovative programming along with policychanges. For example, The New York Public Library, which does not chargefines for late children’s books, waived the outstanding fees for lost materials onchildren’s accounts as part of their summer reading program on the conditionthat children participate in the program and read. The library subtracted onedollar off of their fines for each 15 minutes each child spent reading (Allen, 2011,para. 2). Another creative program can be found at the Public Library ofCincinnati and Hamilton County. While this system does charge fines, the rate isfive cents per day for children and 20 cents for adults (The Public Library ofCincinnati and Hamilton County, 2016). Regardless of the status of theiraccounts, children and teens in this system could ask for their own cards, issuedimmediately upon request, that allow them to check out a set number of booksat a time during the summer. When one book was returned, they could checkout another. “The timing on these new cards was key to encouraging andenabling kids and teens whose regular cards have been blocked because offines or losses, or whose parent were too worried about them running up finesand fees to be able to participate in the Summer Reading program, and tokeep up their reading skills over summer break” (Keller, 2011, p. 14). The staff andgoverning entities of both of these libraries recognized the importance of removing barriers for young children and developed innovative programs andpolicies to address the library fines problem for children.The High Plains Library District (Colorado) participated in a second SPELLresearch project in which recommendations for the initial research, includingremoving fines and fees on children’s materials, were tested in eightcommunities. Upon learning that parents and guardians of young childrenreported library fines to be a barrier to visiting the library, the district eliminatedfines on all late returns of materials (excluding DVDs). The main objective of thepolicy was to increase circulation of children’s materials, and the board andadministration wished to bring new users into the library. Six months after fineswere eliminated, overall circulation was up, and 95% of their materials werereturned within a week of the due date (J. Reid, personal communication, April26, 2016). Staff members of libraries are pleased with the policy change, as theyhave far fewer unpleasant interactions with patrons about fines, and have moretime to accomplish their other duties. The financial effect on the institution, asindicated earlier, has been labeled “neutral.” In order to determine if late returnof items was affecting the experience of patrons waiting for items, the districtexamined circulation data and found no increase in “patron disappoints.” Whilepatrons might be slightly slower at returning items, this is not negatively affectingthe experience of other users of the library.Other Colorado libraries participating in the second SPELL project havepolicies regarding children’s materials that support early literacy in their community. Pueblo City-County Library District does not charge fines on picturebooks and board books, and Denver Public Library has no fines for juvenile andyoung adult items. Guided by SPELL research findings, Garfield County PublicLibrary District no longer charges fines on picture books, waives fees fordamages to board books, and has become more lenient about damages topicture books in the interest of encouraging families to make full use of thematerials. According to the library’s director, Amelia Shelley, “The library districtbelieves the financial impact will be small, but the impact on children will beimmeasurable” (Shelley, 2014, para. 4). There are no fines charged for overduematerials checked out from the Montrose Regional Library District’sbookmobile:The reasoning for this is two-fold. First, these patrons can struggle to haveconsistent access to the library, so getting materials returned on time canbe a real challenge and we want to make using the library as easy aspossible for these patrons. Secondly, many of our target families are low-income and having library fines could prevent continued use of theBookmobile if they weren’t able to pay them off (Lizz Martensen, personalcommunication, May 26, 2016).Moving away from the traditional practice of charging library users for late, lostor damaged children’s materials has allowed libraries participating in thesecond SPELL project to focus on nurturing early literacy skills development inlow-income households. Removing the financial barrier to library use alignsthem with their missions and the ALA’s position regarding library services toeconomically disadvantaged members of our community.

Conclusion and Position

The Colorado State Library recommends public library administrators andgoverning bodies eliminate library fines, and reconsider fees for lost or damageditems, on children’s materials, and other items as deemed appropriate for localservice. Fines are punitive, not educational incentives. Damaged and lostmaterial is an inevitable aspect of library use, particularly with very youngchildren, and needs to be considered the cost of doing business with thelibrary’s young patrons.The profession has little empirical evidence that charging fines results ingreater circulation of library materials, or indeed the return of items in a timelymanner. The administrative costs, including equipment rental, collectioncontracts, and staff time associated with collecting funds from patrons, oftenequals or exceeds the revenue earned from library fines and fees. At a timewhen libraries struggle to remain relevant and increase library use, it may becounterproductive to enforce policies that are punitive in nature and further thestereotype of libraries as authoritarian institutions to be feared.Librarians have an opportunity to play a meaningful role in the lives ofchildren and families in their communities. By eliminating library fines and fees,particularly on children’s materials, public libraries become more welcoming to children and families. Early literacy skills are crucial to school readiness, so it isimportant that parents and caregivers from all income-levels in our society haveaccess to materials they can use daily in the home to practice reading, singing,talking, writing, and playing with their children. Children’s librarians are thrilledwhen they see families checking out a stack of picture books, and familiesshould be encouraged to do so, rather than be fearful of the late fines andbook damage fees that might accrue. Based on the research, these user-friendly policies will bring more community members into the library, especiallythe low-income populations who need libraries the most.


Allen, J. (2011). New York scheme for 143,000 kids to work off library fines: Read.Reuters. Retrieved from Library Association. (2012). ALA policy statement: Library services tothe poor. Extending our reach: Reducing homelessness through libraryengagement. Retrieved from, F. & McMenemy, D. (2006). The decline in book borrowing from Britain’spublic libraries: A small scale Scottish study. Library Review, 55(7), 414-428.doi:10.1108/00242530610682137Burgin, R. & Hansel, P. (1984). More hard facts on overdues. Library & ArchivalSecurity, 6(2-3). 5-17.Burgin, R. & Hansel, P. (1991). Library overdues: An update. Library & ArchivalSecurity, 10(2). 51-75.Caywood, C. (1994). Penny wise, pound foolish. School Library Journal, 40(11),44.Chelton, M.K. (1984). What are fines for? Library Journal (109). 868-869.Clayton, C. & Chapman, E.L. (2009). Fine tuning. Public Library Journal, 4(1), 12-15.
DeFaveri, Annette. (2005). Breaking barriers: Libraries and socially excludedcommunities. Information for Social Change. Retrieved April 14, 2015 at, P. (1983). Hard facts about overdues. Library Journal, 108(4), 349.Holt, L. E. & Holt, G. E. (2010). Public library services for the poor: Doing all wecan. Library Journal,135(113), 92.Jerome, J. A. (2012). Occupy the library. Public Libraries, 51(6), 6-7.Keller, J. (2011). New library cards mean no fines in Cincinnati. Public Libraries,50(4), 13-16.Livingston, C. P. (1975). Removing fines. School Library Journal, 21(7), 80.McMenemy, D. (2010). On library fines: Ensuring civic responsibility or an easyincome stream? Library Review, 59(2), 78-81.doi:10.1108/00242531011023835Neuman, S. B. & Celano, D. (2004). Save the libraries! Educational Leadership,61(6), 82-85.Pogash, C. (2016, March 30). In San Jose, poor find doors to library closed. NewYork Times. Retrieved from Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County. (2016). Table of fines andfees. Retrieved from
Pyatetsky, J. (2015). The end of overdue fines? Public Libraries Online. Retrievedfrom, K., Blackburn, J. & Sifton, D. (2014). Putting a sacred cow out to pasture:Assessing the removal of fines and reduction of barriers at a smallacademic library. Journal of Academic Librarianship, 40(3/4), 275-280.doi:10.1016/j.acalib.2014.04.003Shelley, A. (2014). Libraries support early literacy through no-fines initiative.Retrieved from, F. & Mitchell, W. (2005). Using rewards to minimize overdue book rates.Journal of Access Services, 3(1), 47-52. doi:10.1300/J204v03n01_04Venturella, K. M. (1998). Poor people and library services. Jefferson, N.C:McFarland.West, N. S. (2012, March 25). Late? No, fine: More public libraries are droppingfees for overdue materials, after deciding the extra revenue isn’t worth theaggravation. Boston Globe. Retrieved from, D. (2013). SPELL research methodology and findings. Retrieved from
Colorado State Library201 E. Colfax, Room 309Denver, CO 80203303.866.6900www.ColoradoStateLibrary.orgThe SPELL Project and other projectsadministered by the Colorado StateLibrary are made possible in part by grantfunds from the Institute of Museum andLibrary Services (IMLS).

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