Discussion: Fine-Free Libraries

Earlier this month, the library I work at went fine-free, which has been getting a mixed response. You’d think our patrons would be happy to not have to pay late fees anymore for their overdue books, but I guess not all people think that way.

I get it. When I first heard about libraries going fine-free, I was like, why? It wasn’t that I thought libraries got most of their revenue from late fees (I mean, that would be kind of cruel), but it was the fact that having to pay a late fee should instill responsibility in people to return their items on time. At least, that’s how I saw it. 

However, life happens, and sometimes someone can’t get their book back on time because of an illness or family emergency. They shouldn’t get penalized for that. Or the parents with a herd of children who have “mom brain” and it just slips their mind. You can’t really blame them when they have 500 other things on their minds to remember to return their books the day they’re due or call to renew. 

Considering these types of situations and looking at the facts, I think libraries are better off getting rid of fines. It’s better for lower-income families, who are more likely to use a library because of the free resources, because if they end up with overdue books, they’re less likely to come back because they might not be able to pay the fines. That’s the opposite of what libraries want. We’re for the entire community, not just those who can pay their late fees.

Libraries that have gone fine-free have actually seen an increase of returned materials. Even if they’re late, they eventually come back. The very first week my library went fine-free, we’ve seen many items that were marked as “lost” returned because there was no penalty for it. Sometimes that’s the reason why people don’t return library items… they can’t (or dont’ want to) pay the fine. Maybe they don’t have the money because it’s been so long, or maybe they’re just embarrassed. 

All I know is that the amount of lost items that have been returned this past month has been astounding. 

Going fine-free doesn’t mean that if a patron actually loses a book or it gets damaged, they don’t have to pay for it. They do if that’s the case. Though I’ve seen that patrons usually take responsibility when they know they lost it or it got damaged. So, that whole thing hasn’t changed. Just because we won’t charge patrons for being late doesn’t mean the media still isn’t our property. I mean, if I borrowed a book from a friend and accidentally spilled water on it or lost the book, I would buy them a new copy. 

So, overall, going fine-free has been working for my library, and from what I’ve heard it has worked for many other libraries as well. I’m hoping to hear that our statistics of returned items continues to rise as the weeks go by.

Discussion time! What do you think about libraries going fine-free? Is your local library fine-free?

5 thoughts on “Discussion: Fine-Free Libraries

  1. susanlynknits says:

    This is an interesting discussion. My library went fine free a few months ago. The cost of the fine wasn’t an issue for me but I’m glad it’s gone for those that it was an issue. I still try to return all of my books on time but sometimes life happens. I actually returned a book today that was actually due yesterday. I already read it and was planning to return yesterday but I got stuck at work. I still felt guilty because I know someone had a hold on it but not having to now have it sit on my account and having my account yell “DELINQUENT” at me every time I sign in until I hit enough late fees (we couldn’t pay by cc until you hit a couple dollars which was taking me years) to pay them is nice. I plan to make an annual donation to the library because it’s really important to me and im lucky enough to be able to.

    Liked by 1 person

    • T.K. {Genie in a Novel} says:

      I never had an issue with fines myself (before I started working at the library) but I saw how they affected lower income families, and it hurt to see them feel excluded because they owed $5 in late fees, but couldn’t use our resources. These people have been the most appreciative of our new policies now that their accounts are clear and they don’t have to worry anymore about paying fines 😁


  2. Jordyn @ Birdie's Book Nook says:

    Our libraries recently went fine-free too! I hadn’t had an issue with fines before, as I mostly use our e-catalogue, but I bet the same thing happened here — tons of thought-to-be-lost items returned. It’s a boon for the community, in my opinion. Everyone should be able to access the library without having to worry about money!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Sarah says:

    I’d love to see more data on this from more libraries, it’s great it can make libraries so much more inclusive and I’m happy to hear that you’re seeing more and more items returned.

    Liked by 1 person

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