The Oxford County Library will get rid of overdue fines starting Jan. 1

By Greg Colgan, Sentinel-Review

The Oxford County Library will introduce a one-year trial of no fines on overdue material starting Jan. 1. The library becomes one of the first in Ontario to test eliminating fees on overdue material. (Submitted photo)

The Oxford County Library will introduce a one-year trial of no fines on overdue material starting Jan. 1. The library becomes one of the first in Ontario to test eliminating fees on overdue material. (Submitted photo)

Fines for overdue items at the Oxford County Library might become a thing of the past.

The library will introduce a one-year trial for the elimination of overdue fines on regular library items starting Jan. 1.

Lisa Miettinen, the library's CEO and chief librarian, said in an interview, the library has discussed the concept for several years, but in the past six months, they began to consider it for 2018.

She added branch staff are positive about its implementation.

“After discussing the potential with staff, we went to the library board and gave the pros and cons of getting rid of fines and they wholeheartedly supported it,” she said of approval that was granted at the Nov. 20 board meeting.

Miettinen said library staff will monitor the results and return to the library board in the fall with a full report and a recommendation whether to make the change permanent.

The ultimate goal is to remove any barriers that might be caused by fines and further promote the use of libraries in the Oxford community to support literacy.

“There’s so many anecdotal stories of branch staff witnessing families tell children they couldn’t take out those books because they didn’t want to get fines on them,” Miettinen said. “We know there are families in Oxford County where those fines are a financial disincentive to use the library. It seems disingenuous because we want more books into the hands of children.”

The library has 14 branches in Oxford County, roughly 150,000 books and 250,000 in total items. Ingersoll has the largest collection with about 50,000 items, Miettinen said.

The library will still keep a system of checks on overdue material. If a person had 10 or more overdue items or 20 or more for children, they have to return the items to borrow other library material.

The library system of emailing people three days before a book’s due date or when another person puts a hold on a book will remain in place. Lost or damaged items will still have a financial penalty.

People who owe fines currently will have their accounts cleared as of Jan. 1, but Miettinen said people are still encouraged to donate during December in the Food for Fines program. People with overdue items can donate non-perishable food items in December and have their fines cancelled. She said the program will continue every December and June, but under a new name in 2018.

The elimination of fines has become popular in the United States, while Prince Edward County libraries followed suit a few years ago and the London Public Library has phased out fines for children’s books.

While getting rid of a source of revenue may be thought of as a step backward, Miettinen was quick to note the money made off fines is a small portion of the library's total revenue. The fines account for about five per cent of revenue, with a little more than $15,000 being brought in during 2016.

Many American libraries have also seen an increase in donations after fines were eliminated, Miettinen said.

“Fine revenue has always been a very small aspect of our revenue and in consultation with libraries in the States, pretty much overwhelmingly they say they get more in goodwill donations than they ever did with fines,” Miettinen said.

Ending the fine also removes a negative connotation of punishment for keeping a book a day or two past the return date.

“The feeling when you’re in a relationship and they owe you money, it’s a slap on the wrist. It’s so easy to incur an overdue fine, so we wanted to take away that negative interaction,” she said.

“We want to get rid of that punitive nature and in many cases the material might not even be back in demand,” Miettinen added. “It’s a good relationship-building exercise. We trust our patrons and they want to get the material back on the time.”