We’ve all at some point suffered the humiliation and judgement of paying overdue fees at the public library, but the Guelph Public Library Board of Directors have an idea: What if you don’t have to pay overdue fees any more? That beautiful dream might become a reality in January if the City of Guelph endorses the budget just approved by the library board. No more library fines starting New Year’s Day 2022.
“Many Guelph families are struggling to put food on the table or pay their rent, let alone pay back their library overdue fees,” said Library CEO Steven Kraft in a media release. “It’s time to turn a new page and chapter in library services by eliminating these barriers and welcoming everyone back into our space.”
The idea is not sudden or new. Last fall during the 2021 Budget presentation, Kraft told council that his staff was exploring the elimination of library fines and late fees. The rationale is that fines are a barrier to low income people who might depend on library services, but end up excluded from access if they run up a large tab of overdue fees.
“Why would we continue to operate under a model that hurts our most vulnerable patrons?” asked Dawn Wacek, Youth Services Librarian at Wisconsin’s La Crosse Public Library in a TED Talk in 2018. “If our libraries are truly for everyone, they have to get rid of fines. Books have power, information has power. And for the powerless in our communities, being able to connect to that is even more important.”
The Federation of Ontario Public Libraries attached themselves to the sentiment last year saying that the research shows that eliminating fines actually results in more borrowing by patrons, more materials being returned on time, and an actual reduction in administrative costs for the libraries.
“Ottawa Public Library staff found the majority of users whose accounts had been blocked (suspended due to fees owing of more than $50) were located in low-income neighbourhoods and 43 pr cent of library users with accounts in collections were identified as members of visible minorities,” said the FOPL. “Additionally, they found that 34 per cent of all accounts with fines were held by children and teens and 3,500 children and teens had accounts that had been blocked due to fines.”
The library board said that many of those reasons are driving their decision to end fines pointing to a 2016 report that said one-third of Guelph residents are living at or below the Living Household Income threshold, a trend that has not been helped by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Kraft at last year’s budget meeting, cancelling fees and fines would cost the library about $250,000 annually in revenue.
The Guelph Public Library budget will be presented to Guelph City Council as part of the day long budget presentation on November 16, and approved with the rest of the budget on Thursday December 2.