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A clear message for foes of library fees

Last week's vote on library fines may have split the Forest Grove City Council but it can serve to unite opponents of the proposal, who eeked out a reprieve by the narrowest of margins. The three votes to implement late fees were one shy of what's needed by the seven-member council, and should send an unmistakable message to critics of the fees: this is the start of your work, not the end of the debate.

Mayor Richard Kidd, an early proponent of library fines, declined to cast the needed fourth vote to implement them after listening to library patrons, the city's library advisory board and library staff advocate another course. They said there are other ways to achieve the goals that his three colleagues said would be reached if Forest Grove joined every other library in the county and began collecting fees for overdue materials.

Kidd deserves credit for changing his mind in public; a move that should quiet those who gripe that town halls and advisory panels hold little sway with elected officials.

But the mayor, and the other councilors who joined him in opposing fees, were careful to explain that they were simply putting this plan on the shelf, not taking it out of circulation. Their worries about the high percentage of overdue materials and their effect on circulation didn't go away.

Library Director Colleen Winters was wise to provide the council with a list of ideas aimed at addressing some of their concerns. It's now up to her and others who oppose the system of fines used by most libraries to show that Forest Grove's fee-free status is really an attribute, not a liability.