These Ontario libraries say more people are borrowing items and returning them on time after overdue fines drop


An interesting thing happened at the Kitchener Ontario Public Library after overdue fines were eliminated: more people started returning their borrowed items on time.

Mary Chevreau, the library’s chief executive, said when the fines were originally introduced it was to motivate people to return their items on time, but now “it’s a kind of reverse psychology”.

“Those who, of course, could afford not to bring them back in time didn’t care whether they paid the fine or not, and others who didn’t bring them back in time…would bring them back late, but wouldn’t. .not pay the fines,” she told CBC News.

Now, “people are bringing their items back more on time than ever before.”

Kitchener Public Library CEO Mary Chevreau says staff have reported that more borrowed items have been returned on time since the library became free. (Jackie Sharkey/CBC)

A growing number of Ontario libraries have chosen to remove fines for overdue books and other items, as they are seen as a barrier for many people.

Kelly Bernstein, CEO of the Brant Public Library and a member of the Ontario Library Association’s research and evaluation committee, said more than 80 libraries across the province have stopped issuing fines so temporary or permanent.

When fees were introduced, they were seen as a way to encourage people to turn in documents on time. It was thought that a fine of as little as 10 cents a day would be enough incentive to collect books and other items when they were due, but when people were several days late with multiple items, they could accumulate a significant fine.

Bernstein said research has shown some people feel “shame or fear of huge bills keeping them away” and some feel they can’t walk into a library to access computers, services or programs.

Getting rid of fines means staff can focus on recommending books or helping people access services “rather than having awkward conversations about owing $5,” Bernstein said in an email. .

“The sad truth is that there are a lot of people who can’t afford to pay that $5, so they avoid the library altogether.”

“It’s definitely worth it” not to fine borrowers

Bernstein said some libraries might have concerns about being free, “but it’s definitely worth it.”

When people were charged late fines, she often saw parents trying to impose their own limits on the number of books their children could borrow.

“When my library became free in 2019, I remember a single dad who brought his two daughters to the library every week. He was so thrilled and visibly relieved to tell his children that they could take home as much books they wanted,” she said. said.

“I can still imagine a young boy who said to us, with huge eyes, ‘You mean I can take more than one?’ That’s the kind of joy we want everyone to feel when we use the library.”

In the northern Ontario town of Cochrane, Ardis Proulx-Chedore, a library collection services technician, said failure to pay fines has led to an increase in patrons, including more children and families “than ever before”.

“The simple basic concept that libraries aren’t going to harass you for a few bucks really seems to have encouraged the use of our resources,” Proulx-Chedore said in an email.

“In retrospect, we’ve even noticed that cash donations are on the rise from those who end up with late paperwork. They don’t feel the pressure of a mandatory fine, so sometimes people give from their hearts. “

A woman returns a book to a Vancouver library branch in this file photo. The Ontario Library Association’s Research and Evaluation Committee has created a toolkit to help libraries seeking freedom from fines. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Anjana Kipfer, director of marketing and communications at Waterloo Public Library, noted that being free has changed the way people feel about the library.

The library is among those that temporarily eliminated fees at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. It decided to permanently scrap the fines earlier this year.

“People came in and said they’re using the library now for the first time because they can kind of get these items, and if they’re a day late or something, they don’t feel not stressed about having to return these items,” Kipfer said in an interview.

The Ottawa Public Library removed overdue fines in January 2021. Spokesperson Anthony Langlois said 95% of people with items deemed “lost” returned them in the first quarter of that year, which represents more than $500,000 in recovered materials.

“As of today in 2022, [the library] saw nearly 99% of documents returned on time or within three weeks of the due date,” said Langlois.

Revenue from fines is ‘extremely low’

Bernstein said the Ontario Library Association’s Research and Evaluation Committee has created a toolkit to help libraries justify free fines to stakeholders.

“Staff time and resources can cost more than you think,” Bernstein said. “For every $5 collected in fines, it can cost up to $5.95. There are also costs that are harder to quantify; staff morale and customer shame are huge factors.”

Parents and children participate in story time at the east side branch of the Guelph Public Library. Michelle Campbell, the library’s public services manager, said she’s noticed a trend that people are “coming back to feeling comfortable using the library again.” (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

Since becoming free on January 1, the Guelph Public Library has registered more than 4,000 people as library patrons – a five-year high. Michelle Campbell, the library’s public service manager, said that includes people who are new to the library and people who have let their membership expire.

“We’re also noticing an upward trend in people returning feeling comfortable using the library again.”

Campbell said that while they knew getting rid of fines would mean lost revenue, “it’s not really the library’s job to make money.” Additionally, the amount of money the library was getting from overdue fines was “extremely small and just going down.”

Helen Kelly, CEO of the Idea Exchange in Cambridge, which broke free in January, said it saw a 38% increase in new memberships this year compared to the same period in 2021.

“In the first half of 2022, we saw a 66% increase in borrowing physical materials compared to the same period last year.” said Kelly.

“As one member told us, ‘You really are a lifesaver.'”

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