No more late fees, free WiFi hot spots, movie nights and plenty of coronavirus-safe programming options – the St. Charles Parish Library System is poised for a successful new year.
“Going fine free reinforces the mission of the St. Charles Parish Library,” Lauren Pitz, one of the library system’s assistant directors, said. “We want everyone to feel welcome at the library. Late fines – no matter how small – are a real barrier to access for many people, especially for low-income individuals, children and families. Going fine free is a way to remove this barrier and encourage people to visit the library to explore, learn, create and connect.”
Pitz said revenue from overdue fines generally accounted for less than 1/5th of one percent of the library’s annual revenue.
“Many libraries around the country and in the state have gone fine free to provide more equal access to library resources services to their communities,” she said, adding the new standard of operation was effective Jan.1.
When the library system reopened in 2020 after being closed because of the pandemic, Pitz said fines were waived in order to make re-opening as smooth as possible for both staff and patrons.
“The trend across the U.S. is to go fine free, and the library board approved that,” she said. “We want people to come back in the library … we just want people in here.”
Another recently added library offering is the availability of free WiFi hotspots for patrons to check out.
Pitz said having the service is something the system had talked about for a while, but that the pandemic increased the community’s need for Internet access.
“We knew we needed to supply that service to the community,” she said. “Rental is for a week and you can use it anywhere. It’s great for people who are having to rely on the Internet to go to school or have meetings or if you are doing telemed appointments.”
Libraries in the parish will continue to have free WiFi at each location. Pitz added that meeting rooms are available for booking at a reduced capacity at library locations and that the system is back to full open hours while still offering curbside service.
“Curbside service is one of those things that came out of COVID but will definitely stick around,” she said.
Another offering born from the pandemic is outdoor movie nights.
“We have hosted two outdoor movie nights and are planning for more,” Pitz said. “This is another silver lining coming out of the pandemic and another thing that will stick around after.”
Story times, trivia nights, escape rooms and monthly Programs To Go for children and teenagers will continue via Zoom for the time being, Pitz said.
“Last year at this time I would not even imagine all the things we could have planned and pulled off,” Pitz said of continuing services during the pandemic. “I can’t say enough wonderful things about the staff and everyone who works at the library. We were thrown into this situation with no background and no experience to pull from. We tried some things and not every worked, but overall it was so successful and everyone was so willing to throw ideas out there and try new things and offer suggestions.”
And with many things in the library system changing, Pitz said the standard things remain the same.
“We are still providing computer access and checking out books, audiobooks, DVDs, magazines and more,” she said. “Our online materials and streaming services have also continued growing in popularity.”
With the planetarium re-opened as well, Pitz said all library employees are ready to help however they can.
“We’re here and we’re open,” she said. “We want to do whatever we can to still provide service to everybody. We love what we do.”