The Sonoma County Library Commission is proposing to increase library fines by five cents a day and impose a new penalty on patrons who fail to pick up items that they place on hold after 10 days.
Officials say the proposals would generate more revenue for the library as another year of budget deficits loom, and in the case of the new fine for delinquent holds, discourage patrons from creating unnecessary work for library employees.
"This is not charging people to use the library. It's charging them if they're not responsible in their use of the library," Library Director Sandra Cooper said.
The Library Commission is expected to vote Aug. 6 on the proposals, which include an increase in late fees to 25 cents a day. Items are considered past-due after 21 days.
DVDs are considered late after seven days, or 21 days for multi-disc sets. The commission is proposing to increase the late fee for DVDs from 20 cents to $1 a day.
Patrons who owe more than $5 in fines would have their accounts suspended under the proposals being considered by the commission. Currently, patrons can amass $10 in fines before their accounts are put on hold.
The commission is proposing to increase the total amount that can accumulate on a single overdue item from $5 to $10.
That possibly creates a scenario where a person's account is suspended while the fines continue to grow.
"It encourages people to return their overdue items more quickly," Cooper said of the rationale behind the proposed changes.
Among library staff, the most controversial proposal is one that would impose a $1 penalty on patrons who fail to pick up holds after 10 days.
A survey conducted by library management found that 7 of 11 branch managers were opposed to the idea, saying it would be too punitive and would undermine the library's mission of being accessible to everyone.
Patrons can access the library's entire collection by reserving items. But Cooper said the work it takes to get items transferred from one branch to another is wasted if people fail to pick up the items they've ordered.
"The number of items we move around the county creates a huge workload," she said.
About 82,000 items placed on hold last year were never picked up and had to be reshelved. That was out of 800,000 requests, according to a letter sent to branch managers that sought their feedback.
Most branch managers felt the proposed fine is not worth the "patron anger" they anticipate over the new hold policy.
Julia Freis, the library commission's chairwoman, said the goal of the new fine is not necessarily to generate money, but to change patron behavior.
"When you hold onto a book, nobody can get it," she said.
Cooper said the library is facing a $500,000 budget deficit this fiscal year and that fine increases would bring in an estimated $300,000 in added revenue. That amount is forecast to drop by as much as a third in subsequent years after people become accustomed to the changes.
Demand for library services increased from 2005 to 2010, the most recent years for which data was readily available.
In 2010, 3.7 million items were checked out of the Sonoma County Library, an increase of 30 percent over 2005.