In recent years, there has been another strong debate in the library world concerning the elimination of library fines. The fines are commonly considered to be a punitive method that libraries use to teach reasonability to the user and to ensure that library materials are returned within a certain period of time. But is this strategy really working?
To learn more about the benefits of removing library fines, we’ve recently attended a webinar hosted by SirsiDynix together with library experts such as Beth Crist, Meg DePriest or Judiane Koch. Here’s what we have learned together with 4 reasons why eliminating fines is beneficial for your library.
1. You can gain more time for other less stressful activities
The revenue generated by fines is almost inexistent in most libraries’ budget. According to previous research made on the topic, late fines represent less than 1% of the total revenue of a library and in many cases, there can be a cost to administer the fine. A librarian could even spend a few minutes processing a user payment of just 30 cents and this just adds on to the stress librarians undergo in their daily work.
In the cases where the library does have a fine management system, the user would spend those minutes figuring out how to pay 30 cents with their credit card. Which is more important, the satisfaction of your users or an almost inexistent revenue generated by fines?
This week’s pool:
How much of your library’s revenue is from library fines?
Curious what the others voted? The results will be shared next week on our blog, so stay tuned! Subscribe to our blog to receive the results directly in your e-mail box or find us on social media via Facebook or Twitter .
2. You can remove a big barrier between the user and the library
It is common that once an overdue fine reaches a high amount for a borrowed material, the library is not likely to ever see it again. Many people fear they would have to face the angry librarian and the enormous fine that they can’t afford. So, they would simply prefer to never visit the library again out of shame or lack of money.
Thus, the fear of being punished for not finishing a book in time is stressful for the library user and many citizens affirm that they don’t go to the library just because of that. So why not avoid these uncomfortable conversations with the user and consider the elimination of late fines?
As a way to remove these barriers between the library and the user and to increase the user trust, on June 1, 2017 Oak Park Public Library eliminated late fines, increased the loan period for movies, and increased the number of times users can renew items for Oak Park Public Library materials. As a result, people felt relieved when they learned about the change. Gwen Walski, an Oak Park library user highlights in an interview for Oak Park Library “I love the library, and my whole family gets so much out of it. I really appreciate the library making this decision to end fines. It’s such a relief.”
3. You can offer a new incentive for citizens to use the library’s collection
Sharing information and knowledge has always been the objective of a library even though the means have changed. As the library fines have been a common enforcement method applied by libraries everywhere, people have formed a correlation between the library’s collection and the possibility of a fine. By simply removing the fine, you offer an incentive for users to free and unrestricted use of the collection.
On April 2018, Trafford Libraries in the UK eliminated all late fines as a way to let the users know the library offers completely free service and to motivate them to visit the library. According to the library’s website, library users can freely borrow books with their library card at no cost, they are allowed to renew materials up to 8 times and there is no fine for returning items too late. This way, the library encourages more people to access the library’s collection at no cost and to take advantage of the wide range of library activities.
4. You can create a better image for the library
The library’s purpose is not to collect money from the population. Sometimes, people enjoy checking out 3-4 materials at the same time, but they might not return them all in time. Those who go through the process of paying a late fine or those who simply hear from a friend about this library practice end up associating the library with an unfriendly public institution whose end goal is to get their books back at all costs.
Thus, this practice just adds to the somewhat negative stereotype that users have created about traditional libraries. So why not completely forget about it and show to the community how responsive the library is to its needs?
The Salt Lake Library Board voted to eliminate the library late fines in mid-2017. When planning to remove the fines, the library anticipated a $75,000 loss in fine revenues — 0.3 percent of the library’s $22.4 million budget, according to a news release, but one year later when assessing the results, Peter Bromberg, director of Salt Lake City Public Library highlighted in a an interview for American Libraries Magazine that checkouts rose 10%, and the number of new cardholders rose 3.5%.
To conclude, one in two library users will have overdue fines, be it for a day, for a week or for months. By imposing fines or by limiting their library access until the balance is back to zero, the library is just intensifying the barrier that exists between it and the users.
To learn more about the ways libraries can remove the fines without compromising their overall budget, we’ve had a chat with Meg DePriest, a library consultant and Beth Crist from Colorado State Library. Stay tuned for our interview with them and learn how you can start your own library fines project and how you can convince your local authority to give the green light to remove fines.