Western Libraries Goes (Mostly) Fine-Free

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Posted on: Monday, October 18, 2021 - 1:28pm

Western Libraries Goes (Mostly) Fine-Free

The Western Libraries is no longer charging overdue fines for most WWU library materials. All existing overdue fines have been waived, although patrons may still owe other fees, including charges for lost or damaged items. Western now joins the 100+ libraries across the country who have already made this change, including the Seattle Public Library, Bellingham Public Library, and the Whatcom County Library System.

Why get rid of overdue fines?

  • Overdue fines aren’t effective. Other library systems have stopped charging overdue fines and experienced little to no impact on return rates. On the other hand, anecdotal evidence suggests that library users who owe fines may feel uncomfortable returning to the library--and Western Libraries believes that no one should feel discouraged from using library collections and services because of accumulated fines. We believe that getting rid of overdue fines will increase the use of the library, particularly among those who can’t afford to pay fines.
  • Overdue fines aren’t a significant revenue. In the past ten years, revenue from overdue fines has declined steadily. At the same time, collecting overdue fines takes significant organizational investment. The Ontario Library Association published an infographic estimating that it costs libraries about $6 to collect $5 in fines. Similarly, the San Diego Public Library reported spending over $1M to collect just $675,000 in fines.
  • Overdue fines aren’t equitable. Fines disproportionately impact low-income library users. For example, in San Diego a city study revealed that “nearly half of the library's patrons whose accounts were blocked as a result of late fees lived in two of the city's poorest neighborhoods.” The same was true in Chicago, where “it wasn't that Chicagoans in poorer areas were necessarily racking up more fines... but rather, those patrons were unable to pay the overdue balances.” These disparities are so widespread that in 2019, the American Library Association passed a resolution designating library fines a form of social inequity. The Western Libraries wants everyone in our community to have equitable access to our programs, services, and collections. Eliminating overdue fines on the majority of WWU materials is one step toward creating a more equitable and just library.

What are the statistics?

  • Before accumulated fines were waived on September 22, 2021, approximately 5,942 patron accounts had accumulated charges. 1,546 accounts had accrued charges high enough to block the patron from borrowing new materials.
  • After fines were waived, about 763 blocked patrons became eligible to fully utilize the library again. The remainder have other charges (such as for lost or damaged items) that must be resolved before they regain full library use.
  • From FY 2009 through FY 2019, revenue from fines and fees dropped by roughly 50 percent. In FY 2019, they represented less than 0.4 percent of funds available to support total library operating expenditures of $7.3M.

What does this mean for you?

  • As of September 22, 2021, we have cleared any overdue fines you currently owe from your account. (You may still owe other fees, including lost item charges.)
  • You will no longer be charged a daily fine for most overdue items. A few categories of item will still accrue fines, including course reserves, recalled items, Summit books, and interlibrary loans (ILL). We will also continue to charge lost item fees of $90 for items more than 60 days overdue. These fees are forgiven once the item in question has been returned or replaced. For a full listing of library loan periods, overdue fines, and other fees, review our Western Libraries Loans, Fines, & Fees Schedule.
  • You are still responsible for returning your items on time. We do want all items back, and other people may be waiting for them. If you haven’t returned an item within 60 days of the due date, it will be registered as “lost” and you will be billed a $90 lost item fee. Borrowing privileges will be suspended until you return the item, replace it with a new copy, or pay the lost item fee.
  • To help you remember to return items on time, we send reminders by email a few days before the due date, and again the day each item is due.
  • Many WWU, Summit, and ILL loans are eligible for renewal if no one else is waiting. Renew materials online, email the Circulation Desk, or call (360) 650-3084 during open hours for assistance. Please return items that you can’t renew and place a new hold to check them out again.
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