Quentin Roberts doesn't have to speed-read through books with his 8-year-old son anymore.

Yeyco Avila can spend more time with his favorite films.

And Faduma Mohamed says she can now rest easy, knowing she doesn't have to worry about late fees.

The St. Paul Public Library system eliminated fines for overdue books and forgave more than $2.5 million in accumulated fees on Jan. 1, after the City Council approved the policy change in December as part of the 2019 budget.

Library patrons and staff are celebrating the change, which unfreezes more than 51,000 cards that were blocked because they had accumulated more than $10 each in late fees.

For people like Roberts, Avila and Mohamed,the new policy brings a sense of relief.

No more do they have to scramble to finish their latest treasures.

All week, library staff have been recounting stories about patrons learning that their fees have been forgiven —such as the woman who spent years paying down fees for library books that were stolen out of her car, said Maureen Hartman, St. Paul Public Library's deputy director for public services.

"The library staff were jockeying for the opportunity to tell her, 'Hey, you're OK, you don't have to do that anymore,' " Hartman said. "People can't believe it, because we've always associated fines with libraries."

For St. Paul residents who haven't yet heard the news, there will be a notice on the next city water bill and a mailing later this year, Hartman said. There's also a party planned for Jan. 19 at Sun Ray Library to celebrate the new fine-free policy.

"People are coming back to the library because they heard about this," said Mark Vue, a staff worker at Rondo Community Library. They don't have that "extra burden of having to pay fines anymore."

Another staffer at the Rondo Library said it will be "very helpful" to their patrons who sometimes have a difficult time paying the fees.

Other library systems across the country have also eliminated late fees, for reasons similar to those cited by St. Paul officials: Fees don't affect how often books are returned, and can prevent people from visiting the library.

"If you are a family or an individual who is facing budgeting challenges day to day or hour to hour, even a small fine can cause you not to want to use the library because you cannot pay that fine," said Kent Oliver, Nashville Public Library director. Nashville eliminated late fees in July 2017, and the community response has been "overwhelmingly positive," Oliver said.

St. Paul library fee revenue has declined in recent years, in part because more people are using electronic materials, which do not accrue late fees. Still, the 2019 budget includes $215,000 in additional library funding to replace fee revenue.

Eliminating staff time spent collecting and negotiating late fees will save an estimated $250,000 a year, Hartman said. Patrons still will be asked to pay for lost or damaged items.

"I think that's fair," said Avila, who had an "enormous" fine about 8 years ago for movies that he returned a week late.

On Monday, when Avila opened up a new library card at Arlington Hills Library on the East Side, he was told about the forgiven fees policy.

Avila soon left his neighborhood library with a few movies under his arm.

Emma Nelson • 612-673-4509