Fine free libraries

Library services in the UK that are fines-free

The total number of fines-free library services in the UK is 70 of 202

  • England: 36 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.

Returned to fining customers

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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