Berkeley’s Tool Lending Library bids farewell to late fees

More than 5,000 tools are available in the Berkeley Tool Lending Library. Photo credit: Berkeley Public Library

The Berkeley Public Library will become completely free of fines on October 3 if it stops collecting late fees for loaned tools.

The Board of Library Trustees voted unanimously on Wednesday to end fees on overdue items returned to the Tool Lending Library collection and to lift all fines on books to improve accessibility. The Berkeley Public Library ended fines on young adult and adult books in 2018. She hasn’t charged children’s books for decades.

“Libraries are about providing public access to resources,” said Tess Mayer, the city’s director of library services. “We wanted to take this opportunity to break down a barrier to entry and make it easier for people at Berkeley to try these tools.”

The Tool Lending Library was founded in 1979 and today contains over 1,000 different types of tools available to all cardholders aged 18 and over.

The Tool Lending Library moved to Tarea Hall Pittman South Branch in 2013. Photo credit: Berkeley Public Library

Because fines are not a primary source of revenue for the library (98% of the library’s 2022 budget comes from a citywide property tax), library officials expect the decision to stop collecting tool library fines will have “minimal” financial impact.

But don’t expect to get away with a hedge trimmer or a drainage snake without consequences. Users with overdue tools – some of which cost thousands of dollars – are prevented from checking out more items until overdue items are returned. This is the same chilling policy the library follows for the rest of its materials.

In the coming months, the library will be closely monitoring return statistics to see if people are more relaxed about returning tools on time, but the library’s circulation manager, Jay Dickinson, is optimistic.

“I do not think so [that] We’ll see how many things go away from us,” he said.

Users view tools from the Tool Lending Library. Photo credit: Berkeley Public Library

Councilor Sophie Hahn, who serves on the library’s board, said she hopes the change will break down barriers for low-income people who might have avoided the library due to the daunting nature of the bureaucracy.

“Most people want to play by the rules. … people can function as a society [and] we can share resources and be respectful and kind to one another,” Hahn said. “We need to shape our world with that in mind and not with fears and punitive mindsets about who might be breaking the rules.”

When the Tool Lending Library began serving West and South Berkeley residents over four decades ago, there was just one employee overseeing 500 tools in a portable trailer. The library’s collection, which moved to Tarea Hall Pittman South Branch in 2013, now consists of 5,122 tools available to all cardholders aged 18 and over. In 2019, the library was the first in California to offer kitchen equipment on loan. This summer, the library’s most requested items included weed killers, extension cords and ice makers.

Library administrators also voted on Wednesday to make it a little easier to provide the proof of residence required to obtain a library card. Previously, patrons had to show a current rental or lease agreement, tax assessment or electricity bill. Beginning October 3, the library will also accept a piece of mail postmarked within the last month, a California ID card or driver’s license, a voter registration card, or a valid vehicle registration.


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