Extra debtors, overdue gadgets after Guelph library goes fine-free
Eleven weeks: That’s how long Guelph Public Library patrons can hold onto a book before they will be charged any money for the item.
It has been more than six months since the local library abolished late fines, and according to GPL manager of public service Michelle Campbell, the endeavour has been very successful.
“There are clear benefits of removing the barrier of overdue fines for both our patrons and our staff,” she said in an email response to a Mercury Tribune inquiry.
With more than a million items checked out of the library between January and early August, Campbell said circulation has returned to pre-pandemic levels.
But are people keeping books longer in light of the lack of fines? How do patrons get their hands on the items they want? The following are some of the interesting facts the Mercury Tribune learned about the library’s operation in a post-fine era:
LIBRARY USE IS UP
“Registrations for new card holders are at a five-year high,” said Campbell, noting that 4,000 new patrons have been registered since January.
There were also many existing users who had stopped borrowing due to fines, but were able to start borrowing again when those fines were forgiven in January.
MONEY LOST, PATRONS REGAINED
More than 20,000 library users had their fines forgiven in January 2022. This amounted to $175,000.
“Collection of overdue fines represented about two per cent of our revenue,” said Campbell, adding that the library requested a $100,000 budget increase last year to help cover the shortfall.
As well, if you keep a book or other item too long, you can still face costs.
“We continue to charge for replacement of lost items,” Campbell said.
WHEN IS AN ITEM CONSIDERED LOST?
Most items — including books, board games, DVDs, CDs and more — are loaned out for an initial period of two weeks. If they don’t come back, they renew automatically.
If there are no holds on the items, they can be renewed three times — for a total of eight weeks — before they are officially considered overdue.
Once an item has been overdue for three weeks — meaning it hasn’t been returned to the library for a total of 11 weeks — the borrower will be charged replacement costs. This fee is automatically waived when the overdue item is returned.
RENEWALS ARE UP
Perhaps not surprisingly, renewals have increased by about 15 per cent, said Campbell.
“We used to run about 30 per cent of our checkouts were renewals, now we are up around 45 per cent,” she said.
MORE ITEMS ARE OVERDUE
While she didn’t provide specific numbers, Campbell said the library has seen an increase in overdue items since going fine-free.
“We have increased our communication with patrons to ensure that popular items are returned and we have many conscientious patrons who continue to return their items by the due date or even before so they do not keep others waiting,” she said.
WHAT TO DO IF THE ITEM YOU WANT IS UNAVAILABLE
If the book you want is checked out, place a hold on it. This not only tells the borrower that someone else is waiting for the book, it stops the automatic renewals.
There are also options for people interested in borrowing items the library does not currently possess in its collection. Filling out “suggest a purchase form” lets the librarian know you’d like the library to have a certain book or item on its shelf. If the library purchases the item, you may even get to be its very first borrower.
Another option, usually for older materials, is to request an inter-library loan.
It’s not unusual for items to come from as far away as Saskatchewan, she said, though the furthest location is likely Vancouver.
“We send a lot of items out to patrons in other regions and provinces as well,” Campbell said.