Pro-Fine or Anti-Fine, Which Position Would You Take?

Library fines could become a thing of the past if a group of UK librarians get their way. A fiery debate has been raging for the past week between librarians, with anti-fine campaigners describing the charges as punitive, old-fashioned and creating a negative impression of libraries.

"Libraries are facing competition from television, magazines, the internet, e-books, yet they have this archaic and mad idea of charging people money for being slightly late," said library consultant Frances Hendrix - a loud voice in the debate which has been taking place on an online forum for librarians. "It's all so negative, unprofessional and unbusinesslike; like any business, libraries need not to alienate their customers."

The Guardian article continues: "One librarian suggested adopting the ancient practice of some monasteries, in which monks who offended in the handling of books were publicly cursed. Another pointed to Soviet Russia, where they said that offenders' names were published in newspapers to shame them into returning their books. In New Zealand town Palmerston North next week, library users returning late books are being challenged to beat librarians on Guitar Hero to have their fines waived.


Cable TV is $50/month; Netflix is $18/month and if you have out your limit of items, you get no more until something is returned, and you continue to pay $18 each month; magazine subscriptions are pretty cheap, but you pay every year and the mags are full of ads; credit card interest rates are 21% for unpaid balances and often include other fees for late payments. People are always willing to pay for things which provide value; if you remove late charges, you tell everyone that what you provide is crap.

Arguing against fines is one of those things people do when they forget reality and shed their clothes to dance naked around Stonehenge with the other druids.

Fines don't do much to get back the really late items. Our fines max out at the cost of an item. The fines are a deterrent for some to come back to the library. They try but can't, or won't, pay the fines, so they never come back. Fine amnesties just skim the tip of the iceberg. We never did collection agencies, but often did scary letters from the city attorney and district attorney. That got minimal results.

But, the majority of our patrons are fine with late fees/fines.

Charging fines increases the operating expenses of the library and doesn't bring much revenue in return. I agree with the first person's comment in that fines also create a barrier to a positive relationship with the patron (we aren't the book police, are we?). I've lived in 2 cities now where the public library is fine-free and both systems are quite alive and well.

Now, charging/billing for lost/unreturned books is another matter entirely and in that case, I do believe in using some labor and money toward that end. But regarding the pennies per day type of fine, it ought to go out the window with some of those other old-fashioned ideas of librarian-land.

Those who believe in fines should closely look at libraries who have abolished fines in favor of a conscience jar. We've had ours for about 18 months and it is working as well as charging fines as far as monetary intake. I watched library users faces light up when I told them we don't charge fines but accept donations. What would have been a ten cent fine turned into a $5 donation and those who don't make a donation are the ones who seldom paid their fines and abused privileges anyway. We still bill for lost and unreturned books. The positive PR is worth it and several newspaper articles have been done about libraries in the area abolishing fines with a huge positive response. Our overdues are about the same, so fines don't make a person return books on time.

Libraries can't keep buying replacement copies of books. What are they to do if users figure they can keep a bestseller out for months while others are waiting their turn to read it? Think of it as the opportunity cost of those books NOT being available for other users.

'Frances Hendrix - a loud voice in the debate'

Loud voice is one way of putting it.

From my experience I would say the idea of not paying fines depends on several issues. Such as the number of books etc you are allowed out at once. If you have a mother and 2 kids you could theoretically 'lose' 30+ items there with no reason to bring them back anytime soon.
Opportunity cost of them not being available is definately the major issue here.

We abolished fines years ago in favor of a "guilt jar". We also do not charge for copies, faxes or print-outs...just a donation in the "guilt jar". Many pay far more than we would charge, making up for those that pay nothing...just as a good will gesture. Keeps everything in a positive light and, kids in particular, don't fear the wrath of the librarians!
The guilt jar generates more than we would collect in fines and fees and no one complains. My biggest pet peave is to go into a library and see lots of "thou shalt not" signs making for a very negative atmosphere. The good will also carries over into recruting volunteers, bequests and a happy working environment for staff.

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