A 12 months later, Guelph Public Library not harm by finish of late charges

As of January 1, last year, the GPL along with a growing number of libraries opted to do away with late fees, seen as a ‘barrier’ for many people

It’s been a year since the Guelph Public Library (GPL) stopped charging daily overdue fines, a decision that library staff say has broken barriers as they welcome people back.

“It was a great decision, there are no drawbacks to being fine-free in my opinion,” says Michelle Campbell, GPL manager of public service.

“Many libraries across Canada are now fine-free.”

As of Jan. 1, 2022, the GPL along with a growing number of libraries opted to do away with fines for overdue books and other items, something seen as a ‘barrier’ for many people.

“We are bringing back people who stopped using us because they had outstanding fines that they were concerned about. They had fines accumulating and were not able to pay them,” Campbell says.

“So, we know that we have welcomed a lot of people back, who have over the years, stopped using us.”

In terms of registration, Campbell says the GPL is at a five-year high for our new cardholders, with about 20 new registrants coming into the library daily.

“We not only stopped charging fines, but we also erased all historical fines from patron accounts, so everyone has been given a fresh start,” Campbell says.

Many libraries that have gone fine-free have experienced quicker returns of overdue materials. Library staff continue to monitor the holds list to ensure customers receive items in a timely manner.

Campbell says customers are responsible for the library materials they borrow, and these items still need to be returned.

The library continues to charge fees for items that are lost and damaged as well as replacement fees for items that are 21 days overdue or longer.

If the items cannot be renewed, people are asked to return them to any library location.

“We still charge people for losses, so, we still have some revenue,” Campbell says.

And if something is popular, such as a new best new seller, Campbell says it would not automatically renew if there are people requesting it.

“After a two-week period, it is normally due, but we do give people a grace period of 21 days before it becomes lost. And then once it’s lost, it is charged to your account. When it comes back, we remove that charge from the account,” Campbell says.

“If someone actually does lose an item, and it is never returned, then we would ask them to pay for it, to keep it circulating.”

Campbell says the collection of fines was already diminishing even before the pandemic.

“We didn’t collect fines at all, during the initial year of the pandemic. We actually weren’t budgeting for a huge amount of money coming in from our fines,” Campbell says.

With an anticipated loss of $200,000, Campbell says late fines were never really a huge amount in terms of the library budget to begin with.

“It was at about one or two per cent. So, it really wasn’t sustainable. When we realized that we were going to remove the historical fines, that was more where we had to go to our library board and city council to ask for an increase to our budget to help with that,” Campbell says.

“They did increase our budget so this wasn’t something that has caused us to suffer a loss where we could not buy something or not hire someone.”

Campbell says library staff are thrilled to see people back since fines were dropped.

“We have noticed that with staff, they are having less difficult conversations regarding overdue fines at the desk, so that is definitely helpful for them with stress and worries about those type of conversations,” Campbell says.

“They have been getting positive comments from patrons who are surprised. We had someone say that they are a single mom with three kids and how hard it was to manage everybody’s due dates. Now, it’s just one less thing to have to worry about.”

Circulation at the GPL has returned pre-pandemic levels.

“We are doing really well with our circulation which is so great to see. People are definitely not worried about visiting the library,” Campbell says.

“We still offer other ways for people to use the library if they don’t feel comfortable being in a public setting. But circulation has rebounded, and this is so exciting.”

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