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Lompoc city leaders eliminated the library fine system and waived existing overdue charges during its council meeting on Nov. 16. 

Lompoc Public Library System patrons blocked from checkout by late fines are now back in business.

Lompoc city leaders last week unanimously voted to waive existing overdue fines and eliminate the fine program altogether in an effort to remove financial barriers from use of publicly owned materials.

Some 28% of library patrons were put back into action by the move.

“I’m very excited about the idea that we are making it easier for the public to return the overdue books … ,” Mayor Jenelle Osborne said at the Nov. 16 meeting.

Overdue fines for library materials were 25 cents per day with an $8 maximum. Fines for overdue DVDs were $1 with an $8 maximum. When library patrons owed more than $10 in fines or fees, their accounts were prevented from checking out additional items until those fees were paid.

“It costs money and staff time to collect those, and it causes a barrier for people to actually use the library because if they owe a certain amount, they tend to never come back,” said Library Director Sarah Bleyl.

Over the years, collection of fines had decreased. In the 12-month period up until the pandemic closure of March 2020, the Lompoc Library collected $7,506 in fees at a cost of $13,260 in staff time to collect and process those fines, Bleyl reported.

Prior to the decision, approximately 28% of all Lompoc Library patron accounts were blocked from checking out additional items due to overdue fines totaling $10 or more, according to a staff report. Of those accounts, 25% belong to youth and teens, preventing them from using the library at the age when access to information resources is the most critical.

Since March 2020, the city has suspended its fine program due to the COVID-19-related closures and limited reopening. The immediate result, Bleyl said, was an increase in return of library items. Currently, only 1.6% of library items are outstanding.

Patrons will continue to be billed replacement fees to cover lost or damaged items. To regain overdue materials, the library will mail notices to patrons for items that are 30 days past due with a bill for its replacement and preventing any further checkouts. If the items is returned within the next 30 days, the replacement fee is waved. If not returned, the patron is prevented from checking out additional materials until the item is returned or the replacement fee is paid.

The city followed in the footsteps of Paso Robles City Library, which in 2019 became the first on the Central Coast to remove the fine system, as well as more than 400 library of the nation’s library systems that have eliminated overdue fines.

Lompoc Library is a member of the Black Gold Cooperative Library System, which includes Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County, Santa Maria, Lompoc, Goleta, Santa Barbara and Santa Paula libraries. In addition to Lompoc, five of those jurisdictions also have eliminated overdue fines.

In other action, council members voted 4-1, with Councilman Jeremy Ball dissenting, to urge the Santa Barbara County Citizens Independent Redistricting Commission to keep Vandenberg, Vandenberg Village and Lompoc in the same district as communities with shared interests.