Library drops late fees and seeks new hire

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Photo by Patrick Vitale

On the first day of classes at the University of Dallas, the Cowan-Blakley Memorial Library implemented a new policy that did away with fines for overdue books. Also in the past few weeks, the library faculty have posted an Associate Dean of the Library position in nationwide job listings.

The decision to remove overdue book fines was made jointly by the library faculty.

Sylvia Thenayan, the circulation coordinator at the library, noted that the removal of fines is “ a trend … something a lot of libraries have been moving towards.”

Cherie Hohertz, dean of university libraries and research director of institutional accreditation, said that the decision to remove fines was especially prompted by student feedback.

“We’ve heard from students that they weren’t able to access materials because of a couple dollar fine,” Hohertz said. “We wanted to remove those barriers to accessing the materials that [students] need for [their] courses.” 

Some data analyzing student success and library loans, which Hohertz presented on Faculty Day also influenced the faculty’s decision to remove fines from overdue books.

Hohertz reported that the average number of library materials borrowed by UD students with a 4.0 GPA last semester is 21. She also reported that UD students with 4.0 GPAs are 13 times more likely to place inter-library loan requests than their peers. According to Hohertz, 96% of students with a 4.0 had a meaningful interaction with the library during their four years of undergraduate work.

As for fines, the reasoning is that removing them will encourage more students to use the library and its resources more often. Hohertz explained that prior to Aug. 28, a student would accrue a 50-cent fine per overdue item per day. After 90 days of being overdue, a book would be marked as “lost” and the student would have to pay the accrued overdue fine as well as the price of the book.

Although Hohertz was unable to disclose actual amounts due to confidentiality, she said via email that the most a student paid in fines “was definitely hundreds of dollars.”

The new policy states that a student can return an overdue book from the regular circulating collection, within 30 days after its due date, without having to pay a fine. After 30 days of being overdue, a book will be marked as “lost” and the student will have to pay for the book, Hohertz said.

The new policy applies only to books in the regular circulating collection. Overdue books from the reserve section, as well as overdue books from the leisure reading section, will accrue fines, Hohertz said.

Hohertz said that any students currently with overdue fines on their accounts can go to the circulation desk to have their fines from regular circulating overdue books waived. However, the library will not be able to waive lost book charges or fines associated with inter-library loans, Hohertz said.

According to Hohertz, regardless of the new policy, library faculty are still expecting students to return their books in a timely manner, being respectful of other students and faculty.

The decision of the library faculty to remove fines was made without an Associate Dean of the Library. 

For over a year, library faculty have been scrambling to cover the tasks that the Associate Dean would manage. The last Associate Dean of the Library, Nettie Baker, retired in May 2018 after working at UD for 49 years.

The position was posted last week on sites including the Chronicle of Higher Education and the American Library Association, Hohertz said. Hohertz expects the listing to stay up for about 6 weeks. After that time, a faculty search committee made up of library faculty and other faculty outside the library will interview candidates.

“We expect to do interviews throughout the fall semester and hope to have someone in place sometime in the spring semester,” Hohertz said.

The Associate Dean of the Library is required to have a Master’s in Library Science and experience working in systems administration and library management. The Associate Dean will be responsible for checking materials in and out of the library, ordering materials, taking note of the location of the materials in the library, personnel management, assisting in strategic planning, and reporting statistics to outside agencies such as the American Library Association.

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