Federation of Ontario Public Libraries

Good morning, friends.

I want to ask a moment of your time to consider eliminating library fines at your library.

I run the website endlibraryfines.info. Along with my colleagues we have been collecting resources, gathering news articles, and creating a map of libraries that are either completely or partially fine free. My collaborators Meg and Beth have been presenting to libraries all over the US and you can find their archived presentations in the resource section.

One of the reasons that I think that this is the right time for eliminating library fines is that we (the royal we) are at a reset point. With most libraries closed or open on a very limited basis, library fines have been either waived or ignored for the purposes of using the online collections. As libraries look toward reopening, this is the right time to start anew and eliminate library fines.

There are a number of good reasons to eliminate library fines as you reopen. The first is that library fines impact the financially vulnerable at a higher rate than other income levels. Given the emerged unemployment crisis, this would impact people who will be choosing to spend money on bills or transportation; library fines will be an afterthought to their personal budget. They will need to be assured that they can have access to computers, online resources, and other library materials. The library should be there for them and library fines act as a barrier to that purpose.

Another good reason to eliminate library fines is that fines don’t work the way we think they do. Fines have been shown to be more of a deterrent to library use than a motivation to return materials on time. In places like Salt Lake City and San Rafael, the elimination of library fines had no negative impact on return rates or overdue times. Instead, there was an increase in circulation, card registrations (renewals and new cards), and overall use of the library. Anecdotally, I’ve heard or read similar tales from other libraries in the past year; Chicago saw a dramatic increase in lost material returns when they eliminated fines earlier this year and Denver has seen an increase in overall usage.

A third good reason to eliminate library fines is a paired benefit: a boost to staff morale and an excellent public relations practice. Eliminating library fines reduces staff stress that arises from confronting patrons about fines; a major point of conflict is alleviated. In addition, it eliminates costly financial infrastructure required to keep, count, and track money coming into the library; in San Diego, this cost of equipment and staff time to collect fines was found to be greater than the amount they brought in. As a public relations piece, it is a boon for community relations for it is an act of goodwill and outreach to vulnerable community populations. You simply can’t buy this kind of good press.

Before I close, let me take a moment to address a couple of common objections. First, that is a complete absolution of financial responsibility. To the extent of my knowledge, libraries that have eliminated fines have preserved fees for replacing lost materials. There is still a responsibility to return the materials in a timely manner and with a robust policy and messaging practices it makes this very clear to the borrower. Second, that this position erodes the practice of personal responsibility. Libraries are not in the business of teaching personal responsibility; I am not aware of any library’s mission statement or strategic plan which includes teaching personal responsibility. To paraphrase a conclusion of white paper for the San Francisco Public Library, even if it was the business of the library to do so that the access to library materials is more important to preserve for the public. In other words, it is more in line with the library’s stated mission that a person be able to use the library. Third, that fines are needed to supplement the library’s budget. While this may be true, library fines are a regressive tax that (as noted above) impact the financially vulnerable disproportionally. It is simply not a socially equitable policy to maintain.

Thank you for your time and I hope you consider eliminating library fines. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me through the website.

Be safe.

Andy Woodworth

endlibraryfines.info