let's work together to get rid of library fines

I don’t often try to get into conversations about libraries with the general public but it still happens. Recently it was déjà vu all over again when I heard:

“A year ago I was using the library all of the time. I’d start going again if I didn’t have to pay those fines I racked up.”

If I had a quarter for every time I’ve heard this, I think I could pay off everyone’s library fines! Seriously!

Fines make so little sense to me that I find it hard to believe libraries are still bothering. I’d really like for there to be a “Let’s get rid of fines” movement, so in the spirit of that I’ve created a page called Anti Fines Here’s a little chicklet that you can display on your website if you’re interested in pursuing this with me.

Here’s what I put on the page so far, but I’m hoping that interested parties will work with me developing some more content.

Why does collecting fines hurt libraries?
Fines are a barrier to providing service.

How will we get our items back into the library?
Consider implementing a “no overdue” policy in which patrons that have even one item overdue (that can’t be renewed) can’t check out any more library materials.

How can I get my library to stop collecting fines?
In most cases you’ll have to show that the money you’re bringing in via fines isn’t worth the staff time it takes to collect them. You could also take a survey of your patrons and see what *they* have to say. The lack of revenue and negative attention drawn to the library should be sufficient reason to stop

14 thoughts on “let's work together to get rid of library fines”

  1. love it, specially the fresh (to me):
    How will we get our items back into the library?
    Consider implementing a “no overdue” policy in which patrons that have even one item overdue (that can’t be renewed) can’t check out any more library materials.
    thanks for ringing a clear bell.

    “A fine is a tax for doing wrong. A tax is a fine for doing well…” author unknown
    I don’t like either in libraries… ;) sylvie

  2. Interesting proposals. Funnily enough, both my current and former places of work did survey patrons about fines and whether the library should keep using them. In both cases, the percentage in favour of keeping fines was overwhelming (around 80% in both cases). Patrons who commented felt that people should be punished for depriving others of the use of the materials (particularly when the library couldn’t afford multiple copies) and they didn’t feel that a simple suspension of privileges was good enough – they felt this condoned theft, especially by families with multiple cards. Staff at both libraries were quite surprised by these results… but there they are. It would be interesting to see if the patrons still feel this way as the surveys were done around 5 years ago.

  3. Well, maybe Libraries could do creative things like amnesties, community work, etc. One of the biggest expenses after tuition and books at College was overdue fees.

    Great thing about college: you don’t pay the fees, you don’t get the diploma.

  4. Many, many years ago for a research project in library school, I used Library Journal to study whether fines have any impact on patrons returning library materials. My conclusion was they do not. I uncovered a whole lot of interesting social history, such as using Western Union to notify patrons they have overdue materials and using the local police to recover materials, but in the end, there was no evidence fines made a difference. For what it’s worth…

  5. our library does this. we freeze their borrowing privileges until they bring back the item or replace it if it’s lost. it works okay i think. they want to borrow more items so they are motivated to bring overdue items back. also, families share one account (we’re an army post library) so we don’t have to worry about more than one account in a family.

  6. In an academic library I worked in we didn’t charge fines, and we didn’t send overdue notices. When someone else wanted something someone had out we sent a Recall notice. At other libraries I’ve worked in since, people tell me that won’t work because we want the books on the shelves, so people can find them when they browse. (Folks are much more used to placing holds on things that are out now, so I think this argument is less valid, even though I didn’t think it that valid then.) Many libraries, unfortunately, use fines as a source of income, more than incentive to get books back.

  7. I like the recall idea in conjunction with a longer or open ended or even negotiable checkout period. You want hot items back quickly, but there are a lot of older items that spend way too much time on the shelf. If more of them were out more of the time, we could actually keep more of them in the collection. People could have less in demand items longer. More people would be happier.

  8. It might interest people to know that many public
    and college libraries did NOT charge fines, when
    first opened. This is why many very old books have
    “Somewhere Free Library” stamped on them, as once
    it was free to borrow books.
    You can figure out what happend can’t you? People
    kept the books, since there was no penalty for not
    returning them. So in order to get items returned
    most libraries had to institute fines.
    While it’s all very nice to have no barriers to service
    or negative ideas like fines–human nature doesn’t
    always make this workable.

  9. Daniel Boone Regional Library serves Columbia, Mo and surrounding counties and does not charge overdue fees.

    They state, “DBRL operates on the principle that our patrons can be trusted to return materials in a timely manner. Currently, we do not charge fines for overdue materials.”

    We used to live there and we loved that library.

    On a different, but library related subject, have you read DOUBLE FOLD Libraries and the Assault on Paper by Nicholson Baker?

    It is a real eye-opener and explains why the public library system where we live now has gotten rid of so many of its books.

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