Kawartha Lakes Library system eliminates late fines

By Roderick Benns

Library CEO Jamie Anderson, right, in front of the Lindsay branch with Lyndsay Bowen, library specialist for outreach and community engagement.

Kawartha Lakes Public Library has taken a historic step in further removing barriers to service for  users by eliminating late fines.

Effective Oct. 1, the Kawartha Lakes Public Library Board has approved the removal of late fines from borrowed materials returned after the due date.

Over the past several years library systems throughout North America have been eliminating late fines. Here in Ontario, Newmarket, Brampton and Barrie libraries, amongst others, have all stopped charging overdue fines.

Throughout Canada and the United States many large systems, such as Calgary, Edmonton, Halifax, San Francisco, Phoenix and Chicago have all followed suit. More and more it is seen that late fines punish those who most need our resources and stand in the way of the core library value of providing equitable library service.

While it might seem like removing late fines would discourage borrowers from returning items, the opposite has been found to be true. In a study of nine libraries that eliminated fines, there was no marked increase in late returns, longer wait times for holds or gaps in their collections. Instead, these libraries saw an increase in the number of borrowed items, fewer lost items and an increase in the number of active library members.

“Our hope,” library CEO Jamie Anderson tells the Advocate, “is that by being able to access the collection without fear of incurring fines we will be removing a lot of stress that some people feel.”

“While for many of us overdue fines are small and not an economic burden, for others that $10 overdue fine is a big deal. In order to avoid that burden, they will just stop coming to the library. Having more people come to use the library only has positive results for the individual and the community,” he adds.

Anderson says their expectation is that “by being a fine-free library, we will see people come back to the library who have stayed away because they owe fines but also we hope more people use the library who have never visited us before.”

As of Oct. 1 library materials returned after their due date will not be levied overdue fines. All late fines currently on members’ accounts will be waived at the end of September. However, the library will still be charging members for lost or damaged items.

In a report prepared for the library board, staff noted that sometimes parents were worried about getting a library card for their kids because they feared that the family might incur large fines on multiple accounts. Other patrons would simply stop using the library because they couldn’t pay their fines, or were embarrassed to have them.

“Our mission is to create a welcoming and inclusive library system for everyone. Late fines definitely are a deterrent for people trying to access resources within our community. By removing late fines and forgiving current fines we are sending out a strong message that the library is here for everyone, especially as our communities slowly recover from this pandemic,” says library board chair Sue Ferguson.

While individual overdue fines may seem quite low, with the daily fines for books typically 20 cents per day and $1 a day for a DVD, this can quickly add up for a family with a couple of children.

“Just having eight picture books for the kids, a couple of novels and three DVDs come due at the same time would lead to fines of $5 a day. It’s easy to see how this could be a huge barrier to a family that might be struggling to make ends meet,” says Anderson.

In 2019, the library took in $9,000 in overdue fines. This amount accounted for only 0.5% of the library’s entire budget. The amount of revenue generated annually has been decreasing substantially over the last several years. Between 2015 and 2019 revenues from late fines have decreased by more than 45 per cent.

The Kawartha Lakes Public Library Board sees the elimination of overdue fines as a positive step forward for our community. We hope to welcome back many members who have been staying away due to fears over late fines.

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