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Should library fines be abolished? Are they a vital source of revenue for libraries, or do they do more harm than good? Are they in line with the mission of libraries, or are they contradictory to it?

You can find the answer to these and many other questions in episode two of the Princh Library Lounge! In this episode our host, Vicky Woolbarn, is joined by Beth Crist and Meg DePriest, two experts on the topic of library fines.

Library fines have been one of the most talked about topics in recent years in the library world. Some say they are vital, and some say they should not exist. On what side of the fence are our guests on?

Meg starts the discussion by defining the difference between two key terms in this topic; library fines and library fees. Library fines are the charges that occur when the materials are not returned on time. They tend to start out small, but grow bigger day by day, until your account gets banned. On the other hand, library fees are when patrons must pay if they have damaged or lost borrowed items. Fees can also refer to the money charged for using the copy machine/printer. The conversation in this podcast will solely be about fines.

Beth adds that libraries tend to charge late fines for three main reasons; to bring in revenue, to ensure that people bring materials back on time and to teach responsibility. However, research found that in practice, they did not accomplish the above-mentioned reasons.

Throughout their research, they found that library fines are a barrier for those who need the services the most.

To learn how exactly library fines are a barrier for potential patrons, listen to the Princh Library Lounge Episode 2.

Some libraries may want to go fine free, but because of budget cuts they are afraid to lose this source of revenue. How would you address this problem and what can these libraries do? 

Beth states that while this is a concern that is voiced quite often, library fines are just not a reliable source of income. Through her research, she found that fines only make up about an average of 1% of the libraries’ overall operating budget.

Meg draws attention to the costs associated with collecting fines, both monetary and mental. Credit card fees, post price, agency fees, and so on, can easily add up to a higher value than the fine is. Also, enforcing these fines on patrons is quite stressful and communicates a negative message towards the library visitors.

Also, enforcing these fines on patrons is quite stressful and communicates a negative message towards the library visitors. Click To Tweet

Do you think libraries are tasked with teaching responsibility?

Beth gives a clear and straightforward answer; no. Children, kids or teens are often unable to return books on their own, thus they are penalized for something that they cannot do.

Meg quotes a whitepaper made by the San Francisco Public Library: “Responsibility is an important value for individuals and communities to practice, but not one that permits the library to overlook it’s essential function. If there is a conflict between teaching responsibility and ensuring equal access, the library is duty bound to prioritize equal access.”