AUBURN — The Eckhart Public Library Board of Trustees unanimously voted to do away with overdue fines for items checked out from the library, and it affirmed its commitment to offering robust curbside and delivery services, at the board’s regular meeting Tuesday evening.
The moves are part of the library’s goal to “break down barriers to access,” as outlined in the Eckhart Public Library 2019-2021 strategic plan, approved by the board of trustees in December 2018.
The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown into sharp relief the ways that the library can improve service to the community — and how to make it easier for people to use all the resources the library has to offer, said a news release from the library.
Overdue fines formed a very small percentage of the library’s overall budget. When weighed against the impact on library cardholders, particularly those who are suffering economically during the COVID-19 pandemic, the board decided to eliminate the fines, following a national trend in libraries. According to the American Library Association, eliminating fines nearly always increases library usage.
“Overdue fines are a huge barrier to accessing library materials,” said Eckhart Public Library’s Public Service Manager Darcy Armstrong. “Many people are unable to pay, and many others stay away from the library out of fear of accruing fines.”
“The final decision to eliminate overdue fines has been researched and discussed over the past two years by EPL’s board of trustees,” library Director Janelle Graber said. “This action was taken in keeping with the library’s mission to provide access to our collections, programs, and facilities. This is accomplished through identifying barriers to library services and seeking positive solutions.”
The library also wiped out all overdue fines currently owed to the library. While some cardholders still may owe fines to other Evergreen Indiana libraries for items checked out at libraries other than Eckhart Public Library, many patrons who were unable to use their library cards now will find themselves able to check out books and use downloadable and streaming services such as Overdrive, Hoopla and Kanopy offered by the library.
The cost of items that are lost — defined as an item being more than 28 days overdue — still will be charged, as will bills for items that are returned damaged and can’t be repaired. However, if library patrons have lost or damaged items, payment plans are available.
Eckhart Public Library staff members also encourage people with long-overdue items to return them to the library.
“We just want the items back,” said Assistant Director Jenny Kobiela-Mondor. “People get busy and they forget to bring items back, and then a lot of times they’re too embarrassed to return something that’s been overdue for a long time. But we’re just glad that book or DVD is going to make its way back onto the shelf and into the hands of the next person who wants it.”
In addition to eliminating overdue fines, the Eckhart Public Library staff also is trying to make it easier for people to get the items they want, whether they are able to come into the library or not.
The library offers curbside pickup of holds on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from 9-11 a.m. and 4-6 p.m. at the library, and also offers delivery service through Eckhart Mobile Outreach Service, or EMOS, to any Eckhart Public Library cardholder in DeKalb County who wants it — no questions asked. These services require a minimum of contact with staff, making it safer during COVID-19. However, it is also convenient, and will allow people to stay warm during the snowy winter months.
“We are grateful to be able to offer flexible services to meet people where they are,” Armstrong said.
Curbside service at the library runs much like grocery or restaurant curbside services. People can order their items by putting them on hold in the Evergreen Indiana system, available at epl.lib.in.us, and selecting “Eckhart PL — Curbside” as the pickup location, or by calling the library and speaking with a staff member. Once the item is in, the requestor will receive an alert that the item is in and can drive to the library during curbside hours, follow the sign down the alley next to the parking lot off of West 12th Street, and call 925-2414, ext. 221, on arrival. A staff member will check out the items and bring them to the car.
People interested in home delivery service through EMOS can fill out a form at epl.lib.in.us/emos/ to begin services. People interested in EMOS delivery also can call 925-2414, ext. 222, to start the process. Items are delivered every other week, and delivery is contactless. An EMOS staff member will leave a bag of items on the porch and pick up any items that need to be returned.
“We have learned that the most important thing we can do is to be part of our community and serve their evolving needs. There will be unanticipated challenges, like fires and pandemics, but our staff works incredibly hard to make sure services continue. We want our community to know that we are here for them,” said Programming and Outreach Manager Jamie Long, “We’re here for you in good times and in bad.”
If patrons are not sure what to read or watch next, Eckhart Public Library has a service for that, too. People can call the library to speak with a library staff member about their favorite books, TV shows, or movies and get recommendations for similar items. The library also offers personalized suggestions from selected staff using an online form at epl.lib.in.us/staff-suggestions/. People who wish to search themselves can use the database NoveList, accessible on the library resources page at epl.lib.in.us/books-and-media-resources/.
“We are really proud of our collection, and we love making recommendations,” Kobiela-Mondor said. “The library is full of gems in every genre and for everybody. One of the laws of library science is ‘Every reader their book,’ and that really holds true here. No matter what you like, from literary tomes to light mystery or romance, and Oscar-winning films or documentaries to sitcoms and silly comedies, we have it, and we’re glad for people to check it out.”
The library is also committed to confidentiality, meaning that staff members don’t talk about what people check out.
“The library is a judgment-free zone,” Kobiela-Mondor added. “The last thing we want is for people to feel like we’re judging them for what they check out. One of the foundational principles of a public library is freedom, and that includes freedom to read or watch whatever you want, without worrying that you’re being monitored. We’re just glad people are using the library.”