Fine free libraries

Library services in the UK that are fines-free

The total number of fines-free library services in the UK is 72 of 202

  • England: 38 of 151, including Scilly Isles
  • Northern Ireland: 1 of 1
  • Scotland: 22 of 31
  • Wales: 11 of 22

Norfolk was fines-free since lockdown but returned to fines apparently due to budgetary pressures in February 2024.

The list below does not include individual volunteer libraries. “Fines-free” is defined as those who do not charge for the late return of books: fines for lost books or other charges may still be levied. Some of the information below is taken from the excellent Libraries Hacked Fines free libraries page.

  1. Angus – Abolished overdue fines in Angusalive libraries in December 2015 with no reported negative impact on return of stock (source:  Fiona Dakers, Senior Manager, who also says “The positive impact has been enhancing our public image as a progressive and inclusive service and our teams no longer having the negative interactions with customers “). See New chapter for Angus libraries as overdue book charges are consigned to history – Courier. “Some £5,258.50 in overdue charges was waived against 624 borrowers, and 3,172 items with a combined value of £24,424.40 were returned. The removal of fines for books brings into line borrowing of electronic stock such as e-books and e-magazines, which never incurred fines.”. This is the decision paper on the subject. “Although there is no evidence to suggest that overdue charges do encourage timely return, there is some evidence that a significant increase in overdue charges had an impact on reducing the number of late returns.”
  2. Argyll and Bute – From 1 April 2021.
  3. Barnsley May 2019.
  4. Bath and North East Somerset – September 2019.
  5. Blackburn With Darwen – January 2020. Goes fines-free, including amnesty for existing fines.
  6. Blackpool Fine-free from 1 April 2019 due to reduction in fine income and desire to attract users. March 2022: Fine-free renewed for further year: “no increase in the number of lost or overdue items” .February 2020: 9%  increase in new members since going fine-free: 5k new members expected in first year at cost of £6k. 
  7. Blaenau Gwent
  8. BordersDecember 2019. All fines removed but borrowers asked to make small donation to food bank instead.
  9. Bradford – July 2022
  10. Brent
  11. Bridgend All fines to be removed from 1 April 2019, becoming the first Welsh library service to do so.
  12. Conwy 
  13. Cornwall  January 2022.
  14. Cumberland 2021. Became independent March 2023, Cumbria of which it wa part became fines-free in 2021
  15. Denbighshire October 2022
  16. East Ayrshire
  17. East Dunbartonshire – April 2023
  18. East RenfrewshireGoes fine-free (September 2021)
  19. Edinburgh
  20. Falkirk
  21. Fife
  22. Flintshire
  23. Gateshead – June 2023
  24. GlasgowJuly 2022
  25. Gwynedd Goes fine-free (May 2021)
  26. Halton One-year pilot started from 1st January 2019.
  27. Herefordshire
  28. Highlands
  29. Islington – April 2023
  30. Kirklees All fines ended from 29.12.18 ““We have taken the decision to no longer collect fines for overdue books. The Council feels that fines affect the most vulnerable in our communities and prevent people accessing library services.”
  31. Knowsley – Becomes fines-free.
  32. Leeds – Went fine-free, including forgiving all old fines, and removed the ID requirement for joining, October 2019.
  33. Luton Fines free from August 2021. 
  34. Manchester April 2022
  35. Midlothian – March 2021.
  36. MonmouthshireOctober 2022
  37. Moray – February 2023
  38. Neath Port Talbot2022
  39. Newcastle Upon Tyne – 2022
  40. Northern Ireland – October 2021.
  41. North Tyneside November 2022
  42. Oldham – August 2019.
  43. Orkney Islands
  44. Perth and Kinross May 2022
  45. PortsmouthWhy Portsmouth libraries will scrap fines for three years – July 2018. “All penalty fees for the late return of books were scrapped as of June 18, along with charges for reserving items. The scheme will run for three years, with a view to make it permanent if it proves a success” … “The council is confident libraries will not face a financial loss as a result of the change. Revenue from library fines in the city had declined from £28,000 a year to an anticipated £16,000 since 2011. Income from reservations dropped from £6,424 to £3,951. £5,000 is predicted to come as a result of scrapping fines as people would be more likely to return overdue books, reducing need for replacements.” January 2020 fine-free extended for one year as returns go up 12%, and one-quarter of fines income saved by returns. “Library services manager, Lindy Elliott, agreed. ‘The main positive change is that we’re seeing more books going out even though the scheme hasn’t been going for long,’ she said.”
  46. Powys August 2022
  47. ReadingSeptember 2022
  48. Renfrewshire
  49. Rotherham
  50. Rutland – “No overdue charges“. The first in the UK to abolish fines.
  51. Salford
  52. Scilly Isles
  53. Sheffield March 2022.
  54. Shetland
  55. Solihull – Fine-free from 1 April 2021. Council says fines out-dated as they do not charge for e-books and think it is counterproductive as people with late books hang on to them to avoid paying.
  56. South LanarkshireFines-free from April 2022.
  57. South Tyneside
  58. St Helens
  59. Stirling
  60. StockportFines “paused” in December 2022 until Easter 2023 review.
  61. Stockton on Tees
  62. Swansea
  63. Tower Hamlets
  64. Trafford Abolished April 2018. “In a first for a UK borough, the council said in a statement that fines can be “off-putting for customers”, and it hopes the change, which will see library fines eliminated across Trafford for all ages from April, will lead to “a further increase in usage of libraries across the borough”.” Trafford were taking £31,000 in fines 2016/17. The Head of Customer Service has given her views on the experiment so far (written November 2018) for Libraries Connected in a short blog post New chapter for library borrowing. The BBC reported in January 2019 that “the authority said 7,000 additional items have been borrowed and there has been a 4% rise in people joining compared to the previous year.”
  65. Wakefield went fines-free in October 2020, no longer proof of ID to join as well (source: email from library service)
  66. West Lothian
  67. West Dunbartonshire
  68. Westmorland and Furness – 2021. Became independent March 2023, Cumbria of which it wa part became fines-free in 2021
  69. Western Isles
  70. Wigan
  71. Wrexham – 2023
  72. York – plus no charge for reservations 2023
  • Relevant reports and articles
  • Library fine survey: results and summary report revealed – Libraries Connected. “In March 2022 we surveyed our members and had 61 responses (that is just over a third of the 176 library services in England, Wales, Northern Ireland, and the Crown Dependencies). We found that: …”
  • Pandemic accelerates number of libraries dropping fines – BookSeller. Feburary 2022. “Isobel Hunter, chief executive at Libraries Connected, said the move to remove fines in UK libraries began to pick up speed in 2018 and was “accelerated” by lockdown when almost all libraries temporarily suspended fines while buildings were closed or had limited services. However, dropping fines puts more strain on finances. She told The Bookseller: “Libraries Connected believes that the removal of fines is a positive move for libraries. One service found that over half of people with outstanding charges were living in areas of high need and so the absence of fines is an important way to ensure that the people who most need access to books and reading are not put off by the threat of fines. However, many libraries face an increasingly challenging budget situation where fines are a key part of their income, so their removal requires a greater appreciation from budget holders of the benefits this would bring. CILIP, the Chartered Institute of Library & Information Professionals, agreed …”
  • Should libraries fine users for late return of books and other items? – CILIP. “The majority of those polled disagree with the concept of fining borrowers. There are some compelling arguments from other voters. There is no black and white answer to this question, the resulting discussion points are nuanced and multifarious. While most participants acknowledged some of the principles of having a fines system, ultimately the dominant opinion was that free access to libraries should be the norm.”. Just over 50% against fines, just over 30% in favour.(May 2021)
  • 2019 sees rapid increase in libraries dropping fines – BookSeller.

The Republic of Ireland

New Zealand

New Zealand – Removing Library Fines – Lianza. Excellent guide to how to remove fines including case studies. “Our toolkit helps libraries, councils and communities remove significant barriers to accessing trusted information, the joy of reading and connecting with others.” (June 2022)

The USA experience

Going fine-free is increasingly common in the USA, although it has a long history, with systems like Fort Vancouver Regional Libraries having been fine-free for over fifty years.

  • Library Late Fees – Not Just Ineffective, but Harmful – Galecia. “Increasing numbers of libraries have eliminated late fees because they are ineffective at promoting the timely return of materials, and argue that they undermine the mission of the library to provide equitable access to library services and resources.  In eliminating late fees, many libraries have discovered that the use of the library increases without the rate of overdue returns, and in some cases even reducing the number of late returns.  These libraries also report improved relationships between their library staff and the community.” July 2021

“Many images associated with libraries are positive but the shushing librarian stereotype and the fear of incurring late fees are probably the two most damaging” … “Overdue fines are not distinguishing between people who are responsible and who are not. They’re distinguishing between people who can and cannot use money to correct a common oversight”

  • Five Unexpected Benefits of Eliminating Library Fines – Infospace. Librarians and staff can provide better service to patrons; Being fine-free is more aligned with the real mission of the library; Libraries seeing an increase in item returns; Libraries can use their resources better; Eliminating fines can lead to a renewed appreciation for the library (or at least provide some good PR)
  • Abolishing late fees seen as top trend for 2019 in LIS News.
  • There is a map of American libraries that have gone “fine-free” here.
  • SA – L.A. libraries will stop collecting late fees for overdue books and other materials – Los Angeles Times. “Mayor Eric Garcetti announced Friday that the city will stop collecting fines for past-due books and other materials this spring, part of a larger effort to make the 73-branch library system more welcoming to the city’s neediest residents.” (December 2019)
  • Lightfoot’s decision to eliminate library fines triggers 240% increase in book returns – Chicago Sun Times. ” Library Commisioner Andrea Telli said hundreds of long-overdue books have been returned in the three weeks since Chicago became the nation’s largest major city to jump on the no-fine bandwagon. “The amount of books returned has increased by 240 percent. A huge increase in the number of books coming back. We’re very, very happy to have that. … Those books have a value and cost money to buy. We want those assets back. We also want the patron to come back,” Telli said.” (October 2019)
  • Library fines with Meg DePriest and Beth Crist – Princh. “Should library fines be abolished? Are they a vital source of revenue for libraries, or do they do more harm than good? Are they in line with the mission of libraries, or are they contradictory to it? You can find the answer to these and many other questions in episode two of the Princh Library Lounge! In this episode our host, Vicky Woolbarn, is joined by Beth Crist and Meg DePriest, two experts on the topic of library fines.” (March 2019)
  • Chicago Public Library to eliminate late fees, erase debt and begin automatic renewals for up to 45 weeks – Chicago Sun Times. “The Chicago Public Library system plans to eliminate late fees starting Oct. 1. — making Chicago the largest city in the nation to adopt the growing trend. Not only will the move do away with late fees going forward, it will also erase all outstanding overdue fees currently owed to the city. “I think our staff members are going to be practically jumping over their circulation desks to tell people that fines have been eliminated,” Chicago Public Library Commissioner Andrea Telli said.” (September 2019)
  • Library fines hit Seattle’s lower-income neighborhoods hardest – Crosscut. “the proposed seven-year, $213.3 million property tax levy the mayor rolled out last week, Seattle Public Libraries would do away with late fees, following a trend of libraries across the country looking to make access to their materials and services more equitable. “We find that fines are barriers in ways that they really shouldn’t be, and they don’t need to be, and we can have a better system,”  (24 March 2019)
  • USA – Not So Fine with Library Fines? A Look at the Overdue Debate – Ebsco Post. “For more than a century, libraries around the world have been collecting money for overdue books and other borrowed items not returned on time. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the world’s largest fine paid for an overdue library book was $345.14 … 92 2 percent of libraries in the United States charge fines and fees … An informal poll of Library Think Tank Facebook page followers showed that most librarians are not in favor of charging overdue fines. Of the 526 who weighed in, 72 percent were opposed, 14 percent were in favor, and the remaining 14 percent believed fines should be waived for children’s and/or teen materials only”
  • USA – Why In The World Would You Drop Fines? The Case Study Of C. E. Weldon Public Library – Princh. ” Two months ago we asked our blog readers how much of their library’s revenue is from library fines and if they would consider removing fines at their library or not.”: Of respondents 27% have fines as more than 5% of revenue, 25% between 1 and 5% and 48% less than 1%. 90% would consider removing fines. “To provide you with more data on how removing fines can be a successful method to increase circulation, we have talked with Roberta Peacock, the library director of C. E. Weldon Library (Martin, Tennessee). She tells us more about the reasons that determined her to eliminate overdue fines and how her library has benefited from doing it. Read more insights below”. 15% increase in circulation, 60% drop in overdues. (November 2018)
  • USA – A librarian’s case against overdue loan fines – Tedx Talk. “Libraries have the power to create a better world; they connect communities, promote literacy and spark lifelong learners. But there’s one thing that keeps people away: the fear of overdue book fines. In this thought-provoking talk, librarian Dawn Wacek makes the case that fines don’t actually do what we think they do. What if your library just … stopped asking for them altogether?” (November 2018)
  • USA – The case against library fines—according to the head of The New York Public Library – Quartz. “While relatively small library fines have been a punchline in pop culture over the years (Jerry Seinfeld’s “library cop” is an icon, for example), the fact is that for many families across the US, library fines are a true barrier to access. At The New York Public Library, $15 in accrued fines prohibits one from checking out materials. The reason for this policy may be obvious—it’s incentive to get books returned and back on our shelves—but is it really effective? For those who can afford the fines, paying a small late fee is no problem, so the fines are not a particularly strong incentive. On the other hand, for those who can’t afford the fines, they have a disproportionately negative impact.”
  • USA – The Fine Free Library: One Year Later – Medium. “The benefits of eliminating overdue fines have been clear. At the February panel, Bromberg said that checkouts were on the rise at Salt Lake City Public Library, and the number of new cardholders rose 3.5%. “Getting rid of fines brought new people into the library and allowed previous users to return,” he said.”

““When a mother of four brings in a stack of picture books a week late and wants to know if she can get some new ones, I get to say, ‘Yes!’,” said Tanya Platt, Circulation Assistant at the Main Library. “All those ‘yeses’ contribute to building a better relationship with our customers because they can see us as allies. And that feels really good!””

  • USA – The St. Louis Public Library Is No Longer Charging Daily Overdue Fines – Riverfront Times. “Late in returning that library book? No problem! Under a new policy the St. Louis Public Library quietly rolled out last month, it will automatically renew your materials for you — no need even to ask.  The automatic renewals are part of the library’s ongoing quest to stay connected with its patrons, says Brenda McDonald, director of central services. Among public libraries, that goal is part of a national conversation.”
  • USA – Windsor Public Library reinstates late fees – Windsor Star. “Acting CEO Chris Woodrow said he wouldn’t call the library’s 21-month no-fine experiment a failure but said it brought to light a number of issues that impeded the way the library operates. “It caused us some headaches,” Woodrow said. “We were finding that since there was no fines, customers were keeping materials way, way longer than they should because they weren’t going to be penalized. “And then we had customers waiting for that specific item getting frustrated. We were also hearing from customers that they would prefer to pay a small fine and have access to our materials rather than have their accounts blocked.”

See also (taken from #critlib):

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