Jessica Conley, told Eastern Oklahoma Library System (EOLS) board members Tuesday about a woman who didn't want to come to the library because of late fees on overdue books.
"She had just lost her job, has a baby on the way and multiple kids to feed. She told our staff member she can't bring her kids because of late fees," said Conley, the branch manager of the Muskogee Public Library. "That breaks our heart. We absolutely want to be serving those kids."
Children and adults who go to libraries in the EOLS can now go without fear as system board members voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to eliminate all overdue fines and waive all previous fines and fees.
Mary Moroney, the EOLS executive director, calls it a "clean slate." She credits a committee of branch managers who came up with the idea to drop the fines and fees.
"We talked about how can we make an impact and how can we get our patrons back. That's our goal," she said.
Moroney said the system took in $40,000 from fines as part of its budget of $5.9 million, adding fines are "1 percent of the budget."
"We're supported by property tax in six counties," she said.
Moroney also pointed to articles of libraries in other cities, including Chicago, Philadelphia and San Diego, doing the same thing.
Reggie Cotton, the board member representing Muskogee Public Library, was one of those who voted in favor of eliminating both the fees and fines.
"I think it's going to help out the community and anything we can do to help out the community in that respect," he said. "Maybe we'll get more participation, get more people to come back. It's all about the children. Some of the families don't have the money. We want to try this for a little bit of time and see what we can do to get more participation.
"Every little bit helps nowadays when you have people paying mortgages, car payments, grocery bills and hospital expenses. It all just adds up. I think the system is doing its part in helping out the community."
Board members who represent smaller libraries also voted in favor of dropping the fees and fines, including Margaret Rigney of the Jim Lucas Library in Checotah talked about "social equity issues of charging fines."
"When you think of the composition of our counties, not everybody has access like other people do," she said. "It makes sense to me to not penalize people that they sometimes or somehow aren't able to control. That social equity part got to me and got me through my old feelings that if you want teach responsibility, that's what fines are for. Many studies have been done all over the United States where they found that's not true."
Libraries in the EOLS include Muskogee, Stilwell, Hulbert, Tahlequah, Eufaula, Checotah, Fort Gibson, Warner, Haskell, Sallisaw and Muldrow.
The board meeting also unveiled a new logo for the system. They also approved new bylaws that includes changing the system to Eastern Oklahoma Library System from Eastern Oklahoma District Library System.