Two Years of No Late Fines at The Seattle Public Library — How Is that Going?

On Jan. 1, 2020, something big happened for patrons of The Seattle Public Library: The Library stopped charging daily overdue fines, a change that Seattle voters approved as part of the 2019 Library levy.

Why the change? As the Library shared leading up to the levy, we were following research showing that daily late fines were a significant financial barrier to access for many in our community, including lower-income youth and families, and insecurely housed people and families.

Research also indicated — contrary to conventional wisdom — that eliminating late fines would likely have little to no impact on return rates and could increase use of Library materials.

Just over two months after this change, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic began disrupting and transforming every aspect of life, work, society, and library services. Because of that, we haven’t publicly shared much about the outcomes of this change.

So when The Seattle Times recently asked our Circulation Services team for an update, we welcomed the chance to reflect on what we know two years later, about the impact of eliminating overdue fines.

We encourage you to read the whole article, by Daisy Zavala Magaña (you can also access it for free through NewsBank if you have a Library card). Below are a few paraphrased excerpts, plus a few additional points from the Library. (One caveat: The pandemic has been so disruptive that the data and conclusions we can draw from it are preliminary. We will know much more with a couple more years of data collection.)

  • After we eliminated daily overdue fines, the number of people with suspended Library accounts due to overdue items decreased by half — from 10% to 5% of Library users. A very positive outcome on its own.
  • Library items are returned, on average, six days before they are due, similar to when late fines were in place.
  • Return rates for books and other items, as of March 2022, are also similar to 2019 rates. On average, 7% of items were overdue during the first months of 2022, which is about the same as before the policy went into effect. Considering how much the pandemic has disrupted people’s daily habits, this is a positive trend.
  • The number of long overdue or lost items has decreased significantly — by about 38%.

Library cardAnother positive outcome is that wait times for holds on materials are the same as they were in 2019, which is also contrary to what some expected. Although the Library did see some increases in hold wait times in 2020 and early 2021 (presumably because of the pandemic), they have returned to 2019 timelines, which we know is important to Library users.

In addition to what we see from the data, anecdotal experience at the Library suggests that this change has been positive for many patrons, has made the Library easier to use and more accessible, and has reduced stress during a very stressful time.

In the past two years, the Library has also made other changes to expand access, including improving our Library card application process to make it easier to get instant access to services and materials. Find applications in five languages at www.spl.org/card, and find our Library card FAQs at our Get Started with a Library Card page.

If you’d like more background on the elimination of overdue fines and what it means, see our FAQs at www.spl.org/nolatefines.

If you’d like to read about other outcomes of the 2019 Library Levy, please see our quarterly levy reports.

Accessibility Apps for Library Users

Accessibility in apps has become more and more prevalent in tech development. Large developers, such as Microsoft, have received feedback from users underlining the needs that communities with disabilities have seen as necessary in order to successfully use mobile devices, computer programs, applications, and gaming.

Thankfully, this communication has resulted in a higher industry standard when it comes to creating products that everyone can use regardless of ability.

This is reflected at the Seattle Public Library as many of our online resources have sections devoted to accessibility on their websites or FAQs:

In addition, there are many small developers releasing and improving upon apps for mobile devices that are directly created to make life more convenient and stress-free for disabled communities using these devices.

In LEAP (Library Equal Access Program), we promote and use many of these apps daily to better serve the populations that come to us with needs. It’s our hope that we can see these applications used more widely at the Seattle Public Library in our day to day interactions with disabled patrons.

Here are a few that merit the most attention and all apps are free unless otherwise noted:

1. Seeing AI (IOS) – Described as a “Swiss army knife app” by one user, Seeing AI allows blind and low vision individuals to use their phone or tablet camera to interact with the world. Seeing AI acts as an OCR (Optical Character Recognition) tool, reading documents (both printed and handwritten), labels on products, and currency. It also can be used to describe scenes around you, artwork and color, and people’s facial expressions.

Unfortunately, Seeing AI is only available on IOS devices. A similar app available for Android users is Lookout; or Sullivan+ available on IOS and Android devices.

2. weZoom (Android) – A digital magnifier, weZoom has the same capabilities as the CCTV magnifiers at the library, with the added benefit of being able to use it wherever you go. weZoom magnifies text up to 8x with your phone camera, and can be used in conjunction with your phone flashlight. Color filter modes are included; black-white, white-black, black-yellow, blue-white, and blue-yellow.

3. Ava (IOS and Android) – Ava is a live captioning transcription app that can be used in almost any setting. While Ava does have a paid platform for businesses and organizations, it is free for occasional users. The free version supports up to 40 minute sessions of group or individual transcription for Deaf and Hard of Hearing people.

4. Google Maps (IOS and Android) – This may be a surprising addition. We looked at many different apps designed specifically for people with physical disabilities. Many of these apps; such as WheelMate, WheelMap, iAccess Life, and fuelService; while useful, do not have the all-encompassing features provided by Google Maps. Nor do they have the popular visibility of an app pre-loaded on many devices. With the relatively new “Accessible Places” setting, introduced in May 2020, users have the ability to look up accessible locations and leave reviews on a large platform. While it is unfortunate that this setting has to be turned on in order to provide accessibility information, when it is turned on, it shows accessibility information as well as reviews for most businesses, transit stops, restrooms, parks, and pretty much any other place of interest worldwide.

5. Voice: OCR Document Reader (IOS) – This app comes highly recommended by a LEAP patron. Voice: OCR is an optical character recognition (OCR) app that allows users to point their phone camera at text or handwriting and say “Capture”, Voice: OCR will take a picture of the text. Once the picture is taken, you can say “Read” and the app will convert the text, while it is converting the text a tune plays and will stop once the text is converted and begin reading the text for you. You are also able to download documents or PDFs to the app in order to have Voice: OCR convert that text as well. It is free for the first 20 scans per month; if a person chooses, they can pay a subscription fee of $9.99 a month or $99.99 a year.

This short list definitely does not exhaust the amount of apps designed for and used by people with disabilities. In my research, I downloaded many more that are free and useful. Included here are those I felt were most useful for our patrons at the Seattle Public Library.

If you have any questions or need help you can contact LEAP via email or call 206-615-1380 (V/TTY).

~posted by Seth T.

THE SEATTLE PUBLIC LIBRARY TO EXPAND OPEN HOURS STARTING WEDNESDAY, MARCH 30

The Central Library’s Book Spiral and Reading Room will also reopen for limited hours

Starting Wednesday, March 30, The Seattle Public Library will see most Library locations return to the open hours in place prior to Jan. 21, 2022, when the Library temporarily reduced hours systemwide in response to impacts from the Omicron variant of COVID-19.

“With the recent Omicron surge now behind us and Library staffing levels more stabilized, we are excited to offer more open hours to our patrons ” said Tom Fay, Chief Librarian of The Seattle Public Library. “This is another step toward our return to pre-pandemic levels of operation. We also look forward to offering some additional hours in the coming months, fulfilling the promise we made to Seattle residents when they generously supported the 2019 Library Levy.”

On Wednesday, March 30, the Library will reach another milestone in its pandemic recovery: For the first time in over two years, the Central Library’s Book Spiral on Levels 6 through 9 as well as the Level 10 Reading Room, will reopen to the public one day a week on Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Patrons are invited to browse the non-fiction Book Spiral’s extensive collections, artwork and other features it contains, and to visit the Level 10 Reading Room for a quiet place to read and charge their personal electronic devices.

OPEN HOURS AS OF WEDNESDAY, MARCH 30

Beginning Wednesday, March 30, Library locations will be open for the schedules listed below. At that time, this schedule will be posted at the Library’s Hours and Locations page (www.spl.org/Hours). Continue reading “THE SEATTLE PUBLIC LIBRARY TO EXPAND OPEN HOURS STARTING WEDNESDAY, MARCH 30”

50+ Free Things You Can Do Through The Seattle Public Library

The interior of the Central LibraryWant to learn a language, improve your job skills, find free one-on-one tutoring, download new songs, learn web design, or find a read-aloud for your child?

You can do all of these things and much more through The Seattle Public Library. A dozen or so of the activities in this list do not even require a Library card.

Happy exploring, escaping and learning! And yes, this is just a sampling. Find many more programs, services, and, of course, our collections, at spl.org and at our 27 locations. (Note: We will regularly update this list, so check back. Add your favorite thing that we missed in the comments!) Continue reading “50+ Free Things You Can Do Through The Seattle Public Library”

“Read any Good Books?” Library Tools for Remembering

Book with a heart in its pages

“Read any good books this year?”

That’s one of my family’s favorite questions around the holiday table. But if the past is any indication, my answer will be something like: “Yes! … If I could only remember them.”

I have long wanted an easy, reliable method of keeping track of books I’ve read. I’ve tried Good Reads, a bullet journal, a spreadsheet and just keeping a simple list on the fridge. In all cases, after a few entries, my efforts tapered off.

At the end of the day, I’d rather read than keep a log of what I’ve read.

Lucky for me, The Seattle Public Library offers several Library tools that can help, with minimal effort required. I recently experimented with a few, with the goal of making 2022 my Year of Finally Remembering What I’ve Read.

First, an important note about Library confidentiality

The default setting in the Library’s catalog is to not track your checkouts. This is in keeping with our confidentiality policy, which you can review on our website.

Here’s the important sentence: “The Seattle Public Library protects the confidentiality of patron information as part of its commitment to intellectual freedom. Confidentiality and privacy are essential to free speech, free thought and free association.”

In other words, once you return an item, the Library doesn’t keep track of what you’ve borrowed. It also doesn’t track the web pages you navigate to or other Library activity. If you’ve wondered why you never get auto-generated “recommended reads” links while browsing the online catalog, this is why. Continue reading ““Read any Good Books?” Library Tools for Remembering”