Thursday, May 25, 2006

Library fines? or not

via It’s All Good, Vote Early Vote Often (George Needham)

Looks like The Christian Science Monitor has once again raised the perennial question of library fines – or late fees. They even have a survey, asking the opinion of readers: “Should library fines be abolished?” As of this writing, out of 238 votes, 168 said “No. Fines help to keep borrowers in line and can be a needed source of income for small towns.” And 70 said “Yes. Late fees are more trouble than they're worth, and they cast libraries in a negative light.”

While I realize that some libraries believe they receive considerable income from the fines collected ( cites the Chicago Public Library having brought in $1.1 million in revenue last year from fines, even without using a collection agency), the article proposes that the cost of good will may be higher, not to mention the undefined labor costs of cash collecting and management.

I previously worked for the Air Force Library Service, where we did not collect fines. Our ultimate threat was collecting for unreturned materials after a generous period of time. Recently, several of our library directors have shared that they are considering or experimenting with elimination of fines. Our Online Schools do not, indeed under state law cannot, charge overdue fees. From anecdotal evidence, it doesn’t appear that there is significant difference in number of lost materials between those libraries that assess fines and those that do not.

The real questions for libraries to ask are: Why is the fine in place? What is the cost of the whole process? What would be the cost of eliminating the fine process? What could be gained in good will if fines were eliminated? or even . . . . How much might library usage be increased if citizens didn’t fear past or future fines?

Anyway, as George says: “Vote early, vote often.” (hurry, poll closes 30 days from start of survey, according to

And in the meantime, can we at least call them late fees instead of fines?


At 10:47 PM, Anonymous pkchrist said...

Late fees instead of fines -- at least that sounds a tad bit more friendly.

MPOW just eliminated the fee for checking out without showing your library card. We still ask for identification, if you don't have your card with you. Confirming the identification in the automated system takes so little extra time, that we couldn't justify the fee. At less than the cost of a soda, it wasn't a deterrent to checking out without the card. Mostly it just annoyed the customer.

At 1:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Fines help to keep borrowers in line..."
Is it our job to be schoolmarm and cluck our tongues at them? Gosh, would YOU patronize a business that saw you as someone to keep in line instead of someone to serve?

"...and can be a needed source of income for small towns"
Which will not nearly offset the loss of goodwill. Goodwill costs. When you seek political support for govt funding, or when you raise funds privately through charitable appeals, that goodwill will boost you far more than that 5 cents a day you got on the 20 books the mayor's 6-year-old son forgot to bring back for a week.

At 10:28 AM, Anonymous Shaun said...

The good will we would lose would be that of the people who are careful to return their items on time. They would see dropping fines as a surrender to those who fail to return their items on time. So far, I haven't seen any convincing evidence there is a measurable increase in 'good will' once fines are dropped. Plus, I think if we cut late fees, we would then have to cut a position. And no, it does not take an FTE to manage collecting late fees. We would continue to try and recover items checked out and not returned and that's where the time goes.


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