INFO 287 Blog Post #2: Reflection on Participatory Service & Transparency

In this module, the Dixon (2017) and Yu (2020) articles about eliminating library fines stood out to me. Getting rid of fines removes barriers to borrowing library materials and works to “provide equitable access to as many patrons as possible” (Dixon, 2017). Making this shift also aligns with the goal of supporting local communities (Yu, 2020).

Rather than encouraging responsibility, late fines discourage those who can least afford to pay from borrowing a book or even visiting the library. There are so many factors that may lead to being late in returning a book, such as just not being able to fit another trip to the library into one’s schedule, or not having a library branch close enough, making it even more difficult to get there. I stopped borrowing physical books from the library a few years ago because it was such a long trip to get there, and it felt too risky to borrow multiple books at a time. Doing so would make the trip feel more worthwhile, but it would also create the pressure of having to finish them all by a certain date. At the same time, making a trip that required both a bus and a train did not feel worth it if I was only going to borrow one book. The thought of having to pay a late fee if I either forgot to return a book, or if something came up and prevented me from returning it on time gave me so much anxiety that I switched to only borrowing e-books since those are automatically returned on the due date. But everyone doesn’t have reliable internet access or an e-reader, so e-books may not be an option for some community members.

My local public library system eliminated fines in October 2021, and I hope that this change encourages more people in my community to borrow books and just visit the library in general. Eliminating fines increases access to library resources and getting rid of something that served as a barrier rather than a benefit to patrons helps community members feel like the library really is for everyone.

 

References

Brooklyn Public Library. (2021, October 5). One fine day: New York City’s three public library systems eliminate late fines. https://www.bklynlibrary.org/media/press/one-fine-day-new-york

Dixon, J. (2017, July 11). Nashville, Salt Lake City, Columbus eliminate fines. Library Journal. https://www.libraryjournal.com/story/nashville-salt-lake-city-columbus-eliminate-fines

Yu, C. (2020, July 3). Chapel Hill public library announces it will no longer charge late fines. The Daily Tar Heel. https://www.dailytarheel.com/article/2020/07/ch-library-fine-0703

4 thoughts on “INFO 287 Blog Post #2: Reflection on Participatory Service & Transparency”

  1. Hi Laura,

    Yes, both my county library system and city library system have stopped collecting fines! Yay!!

    With the technology that the city is lending out, there is a three-strike system, if you lose three hotspots or Chromebooks then you lose the ability to borrow any piece of tech again. At least there are no fines, but it is hard on some customers, especially people who don’t have the ability to lock up their belongings.

  2. Laura, I have to agree with you about fines. I am an elementary school librarian, and I abolished fines in my library. First, and most important, it is a discouragement for library use. Second, I don’t have a cash drawer! How do I keep the money and give change? And where would that money go? To the district who doesn’t give me a book budget. Ridiculous. If a student looses a book, we have a chat. If the family can’t pay to replace it, I have a talk with the student about responsibility. I treat it as a “teaching moment”. It never happens again, and the students continue to use the library. The point is access to to books, not barriers to books. This is especially important in our school, since many of our students are low income, and don’t have many books at home. Fines are barriers to knowledge and really should be done away with.

  3. Hi @lauragreaves,
    Your descriptions of scenarios where a book may get returned late is something I think a lot of people can relate to! I think it highlights well how removing late fines can make visiting the library and borrowing materials much more accessible (and less intimidating when we make a mistake anyone could make).

    I also think that it shows how important human-centered design is when developing library services, spaces, and experiences. Libraries should be as accessible and convenient to their users as possible–users shouldn’t be punished because they are perceived as “using the library wrong,” especially when not everyone is using the library for the same reasons.

    Thank you for your thoughts on this topic!
    – Rachael @raekay

  4. @lauragreaves You hone right in on the importance of not making barriers for access to the library. It makes me very happy to read about the libraries that are doing away with fines. Your last paragraph taps into something I saw in another blog I read today about belonging. Perhaps getting rid of fines helps people feel that they belong to and in the library.

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