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?