Youths who check out items from the two public library systems in Whatcom County no longer will be charged late fees beginning Jan. 1.
The intent is to support early learning by getting library cards into youngsters' hands.
Ending overdue fees will help with that effort because parents have told library staff that such fines make them reluctant to get library cards for their children.
"In order for kids and libraries to get together, you've got to break down whatever barriers you can," said Lizz Roberts, community relations coordinator for Whatcom County Library System.
The change by Bellingham Public Library and Whatcom County Library System will affect card holders 17 and younger who check out children and teen materials - such as books, movies and magazines.
Youths who fail to return those items on time will be notified that they're overdue. They will be charged the cost of replacing items that are 60 days overdue.
"It has less to do with revenue for us than to make sure that the materials are returned in a timely fashion so that others may enjoy them," said Regan Robinson, public services manager for the County Library System.
Youngsters still will face overdue fines if they check out materials meant for adults and don't return them in time.
The two library systems are separate organizations but coordinate their policies because cardholders use both.
So having both library systems eliminate overdue fines for children will save confusion. And while that's one reason for the coordinated effort, library officials said it's also about starting kids on a path of lifelong learning by making it possible for them to have access to many books.
A 2010 study titled "Scholarly culture and educational success in 27 nations" found that children who have 500 or more books in their homes get an average of three more years of schooling than children in homes without books - regardless of their parents' occupation, education and socio-economic background.
The common theme is valuing books and having books in the home, Christine Perkins, assistant director for Bellingham Public Library, noted of the study.
"Libraries can get those books into the home for people," she said. "However we can do that, we think we're making a big impact."
The Jan. 1 change isn't expected to have much of an impact on the total amount of overdue fines collected, officials for both library systems said.
Whatcom and Bellingham libraries are coordinating their efforts in two other ways starting in the New Year:
? Whatcom will increase fines on overdue adult materials to 25 cents an item a day, to match Bellingham. It's the first time adult fines were increased since they were begun by Whatcom in the 1990s.
? Both libraries will move to a two-day grace period for overdue library items. Whatcom now has a grace period of two to seven days, depending on the items checked out.
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