The first library board in Ontario to eliminate overdue book fines during the COVID-19 pandemic was Brant County.
The Innisfil ideaLAB & Library was the second.
On Wednesday night, Mandy Pethick, manager of customer experience at the ideaLAB, and library board chair Monica Goodfellow appeared before town council in a Zoom meeting to explain the reasons for eliminating a library revenue stream.
“Libraries function as social infrastructure for Innisfil,” said Goodfellow, noted it's a meeting place, a hub for social interactions and for accessing resources, from skills development to employment.
The library is owned by the residents of Innisfil, she said, and the board decided that the overdue book fine policy “was not making anyone’s lives better.”
In fact, it was seen as a barrier to the use of the library, noted Pethick. Fines were introduced in 1912, when it was believed that the threat of financial consequences would ensure that patrons returned borrowed materials on time.
The biggest impact of the policy has been on the most vulnerable populations, and those with low incomes, preventing full participation in a community resource.
“One incident can result in years of exclusion,” Pethick told council.
So, on July 1, the board voted to eliminate overdue fines. If a book, magazine, CD or DVD has not been returned after three weeks, the replacement cost is added to the patron’s account, but is dropped as soon as the items are returned, if that happens within a six-week period.
After six weeks, library staff will still work with the patron to find a solution that ensures continued access.
Since eliminating the fines, the library has found that materials are being returned at the same or even an increased rate, since individuals who may have rediscovered an overdue book that was overlooked or “fell under a bed” are no longer afraid to return the item.
“It’s time to come back to your library,” said Goodfellow. “There’re no more overdue fines on anyone’s account.”
“I think it couldn’t have come at a better time, when people are struggling,” said Coun. Donna Orsatti, a member of the board.
Orsatti called the elimination of overdue fines “a very proactive and good move on the part of the library.”
The no-fines policy has now been adopted up by other libraries across the province, including Barrie, Vaughan, and Bradford West Gwillimbury.
In Bradford, chair Jennifer Harrison called it a way of “reducing financial barriers to library services and ensuring respect for local residents’ hard-earned money.”