Oak Bluffs eliminates library late fees

Agreement also approved with Dukes County for health and human services.

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An old due date slip in a CLAMS library book. Oak Bluffs will no longer charge fees for overdue books. — Brian Dowd

Updated 10:05 am

Oak Bluffs selectmen unanimously supported a proposal to eliminate late fees at the Oak Bluffs Public Library.

Library director Allyson Malik presented the proposal to selectmen at the board’s meeting Tuesday night. “Research shows that late fines are punitive, that they only go toward creating a barrier for those who require the library services the most,” Malik said. “Library fines for overdue materials prevent low-income families and caregivers, especially children, from using the library.”

For those holding a Cape Libraries Automated Materials Sharing (CLAMS) library card, there will be no more daily fines charged for overdue items, and all existing overdue fines will be cleared from all accounts. This will also unblock all accounts that were previously blocked due to late fees. 

In an email to The Times, Malik wrote that about a third of of all blocked Island patrons are from Oak Bluffs, even though Oak Bluffs has a similar patron size to other towns. Currently, 1,874 Oak Bluffs library patrons owe fines, and 43 of those patrons are blocked from using library services because of fines over $25. Another 62 patrons would be blocked with one more late-return fine. In total, Vineyard libraries have 154 people on their blocked list.

The library expects to implement the proposal in January. 

Oak Bluffs won’t be alone, either. All Martha’s Vineyard libraries are working to eliminate late fees. The Oak Bluffs library is part of the CLAMS library consortium, which gives patrons materials access to all 37 member libraries on the Cape and Islands. 

Library materials still have due dates, and the library will encourage people to return materials on time. The library also has automatic renewals, and an automated notice letter. If after several renewals, a person does not return the item, the library will consider it lost, and charge a replacement fee. If the book is then brought back in good condition, the fee will be waived. Interlibrary loan will also not be affected. Books will not be automatically renewed if there is a waitlist.

Malik added that late fees do not bring in a significant amount of revenue, and the benefit of unlocked accounts outweighs the revenue of late fees. In FY19, the library collected $4,036 in late fees, all of which goes to the town’s general fund, and does not affect the library’s operating budget.

Selectman Michael Santoro, who was on board with the proposal, said it reminded him of his childhood in Medford. “I can relate. I can remember as a kid in Medford public library, and I’d be scared to death each day that went by; I didn’t want to tell my parents,” Santoro said.

“This is exactly what we want to try and avoid. We want to bring baby Michaels into our library,” Malik replied.

The library has a longstanding relationship with the Island Food Pantry, and often takes nonperishable food donations in lieu of late-fee payments. The library will continue to collect food donations.

In other business, selectmen approved an agreement between the town and Dukes County for creating and sharing Dukes County Health and Human Services, a service to improve access to health and human services for Island residents. The agreement is good for one year, and will come back to selectmen for approval.

Selectman Gail Barmakian said she saw “a lot of flaws” in the contract, and would vote no. She raised concerns that if Oak Bluffs or other towns decided not to fund the service, it might not continue. The agreement was approved 4-1, with Barmakian voting no.

Selectmen met with Oak Bluffs Association (OBA) executive director Christine Todd to discuss decorations on the trees on Circuit Avenue. 

Selectman Jason Balboni said there should be consistency with lights on the trees, and LED and non-LED lights should not be mixed. He also said there have been issues with decorations that were not approved by the selectmen. 

“Last year, the cobwebs on the trees. I got so many comments about the cobwebs in the trees, and they say, ‘Why did the town put these up,’ and I don’t have an answer,” Balboni said.

Selectmen said they would contribute holiday lights that they have, but would not contribute funds for more lights or for labor costs to install them.

The OBA will return to selectmen in February with a plan for how they want to decorate trees for the coming year.

The Cardboard Box Restaurant was approved to change from a seasonal restaurant to year-round. Selectmen approved the change 3-0, citing a desire for more year-round establishments in town. Selectmen Brian Packish, who is the new co-owner of the building that houses the Red Cat Kitchen, and Santoro recused themselves from the discussion and the vote.

Dig It Construction, based in South Dennis, was chosen as the contractor for sand replacement and piling installation at the North Bluff. The town received four bids for the North Bluff beach nourishment project, with Dig It’s bid being the lowest at $690,359.

 

Updated to remove a proposal from a bank that had not been finalized. — Ed.