On September 15, 2014, Algonquin Area Public Library District (AAPLD) joined the ranks of a few trend-setting libraries and stopped charging their cardholders overdue fines. That same day, the Library also waived all overdue fines from AAPLD cardholder accounts, a fine forgiveness that applied only to materials checked out from AAPLD locations.
Historically, AAPLD has worked with cardholders to ease the burden of fines, such as a semiannual “Food for Fines” event where cardholders brought items for the local food pantry and were rewarded with the removal of overdue fines from their account. During the 2009 recession, the Library wiped all overdue fines from cardholder accounts (a total of approximately $80,000), reduced daily overdue DVD fines from $1 to .50, and lowered the maximum fine to $5.00 per item.
In early 2014, then Library Director Lynn Elam approached Access Services Manager Gary Christopherson with the idea of eliminating fines for overdue materials. Many decisions were necessary on the ILS policy side, such as terms (i.e., should there be a limit on number of books overdue?) and the scope (should the Library try out a pilot program for one or two item types in the collection?). The idea was presented during a regularly scheduled Board of Trustees meeting for consideration while staff explored the policy’s feasibility. Trustees had a few questions:
- Can the Library afford to do this?
- What if cardholders go to another library to check out materials?
- How will the Library get the materials back?
The no-fines policy was presented for approval at a subsequent meeting with answers to the questions. The Library could afford it: overdue fines historically contributed to less than 1% of the annual budget, and credit card fees and staff processing time reduced that amount considerably. The policy was defined so AAPLD cardholders would be subject to overdue fines at reciprocal libraries. As far as ensuring that materials were returned, the Library elected to issue a bill for items two weeks overdue and suspend borrowing privileges until the bill was addressed. It was also decided to make the policy applicable to the entire collection.
The Board approved the new policy and staff worked on its implementation. Christopherson estimates that ILS policy adjustments and additions/changes to the circulation map and the circulation rules required a full week. The Library began advertising the new policy about a month before its effective date, using Library signage, FAQ bookmarks, slides on Library monitors, and a notice on the Library web site. A press release was issued and the news appeared in print and online editions of several local media outlets, such as Patch.com and the Northwest Herald. The Library also used Twitter and Facebook to get the word out, retweeting when the news was mentioned and interacting with cardholders who wrote on the Library’s timeline.
Community reaction has been positive. Library Associate Mary Legg-Rains recalls one woman was moved to tears when she learned of the new policy—and how more than $80 in overdue fines were cleared from her account. “She was so grateful she could come back to the library again,” Legg-Rains says. “It’s been wonderful—positive feedback so far. I feel so fortunate to share in these happy times with our patrons.”
It’s too soon to tell if this new policy has impacted circulation numbers in a significant way. However, compared to AAPLD’s annual decline in circulation, which has hovered around 15%, the Library saw a 3% decline in circulation in the 30 days since the policy went into effect.
About two weeks after the policy went “live,” the Library was closed for a week due to parking lot renovation. Library staff marveled at the number of patrons who fought past construction machinery, knocked on the book return drive-thru window, or hailed staff out their car windows—all in the name of returning materials on time. Staff patiently (and repeatedly) explained that cardholders didn’t have to worry about overdue fines anymore. Reactions ranged from disbelief to concern that some kind of trick was being played. It seems that the traditional equation of overdue materials = fine + shame is firmly entrenched in our (library) culture, but AAPLD is certain that cardholders will happily adjust.
Diane Strzelecki is the Marketing/Public Relations Associate at the Algonquin Area Public Library District.