Here are four good reasons to go fine-free:
a) Equity – overdue fines have been shown to disproportionately hurt newcomers, families with children, and low-income patrons.
b) Efficiency – instead of spending time settling patron accounts and explaining overdue fines that have been charged, staff can focus on activities that add value to the library and enhance your visit.
c) Literacy – it depends on access to and positive experiences with books and stories. No fines mean more children getting a good start.
d) Relationship building – the library stops being a place of punishment and becomes more welcoming. People who haven’t dared borrow from the library for fear of overdue fines may join, and those who have left because of unmanageable charges on their accounts may return.
There is little evidence to show that overdue fines motivate library users to return their items on time unless they are charged at prohibitively high rates. Libraries that have gone fine-free have not had a notable increase in late returns.
Probably not. A 2019 survey of library systems that had eliminated fines found that none had experienced an increase in late returns or longer hold wait times.
In 2021, less than 1% of the library’s budgeted income was made up of overdue fines. Town Council has graciously funded the library with an additional $21,000 for 2022 which covers anticipated revenue from both overdue fines and library membership fees.
Additionally, some libraries have seen an increase in donations when eliminating overdue fines and membership fees.
Borrowers will continue to receive overdue notices when an item is late. Items that are not returned within 45 days of their due date will be billed to the borrower as lost.
When charges for lost items exceed $20, the borrower’s account will be blocked until the items are returned.
Libraries have been moving in this direction for awhile, particularly as more borrowing happens digitally, where fines cannot be incurred. COVID has accelerated the movement with a steep reduction in income from overdue fines. Currently all the other Wheatland County libraries (Carseland, Gleichen, Rockyford, and Standard) are fine-free. Many of the major centres have fine-free libraries (Calgary, Edmonton, Grande Prairie, Lethbridge). Smaller and medium-sized municipalities have gone fine-free as well (Camrose, Carstairs, Cold Lake, Devon, Didsbury, Fort Saskatchewan, Jasper, Lac La Biche County, Pincher Creek, Stettler, Strathcona County, and Sylvan Lake).
If you would like to read more about fine free libraries in Canada and the reasons they have made the move, visit https://librarianship.ca/features/fine-free-libraries-in-canada/