The Yass Valley Library will discontinue charging overdue fines and all current fines will be waived in a recent decision by Council.

The 1400 overdue library fees, amounting to $8,252, that accrued between the period 2017 and 2021 will be waived.

There is a worldwide trend for the abolishment of library fines in a bid to remove barriers to bringing people back to the library.

Yass Valley Library Coordinator Kimberly Hughes said they had been waiving late fines since 2017 when they departed the Southern Highland Library network.

“We found that it was a great thing for the community, especially with the patrons that sometimes forget the books and things like that,” she said.

Kimberly said if people had heavy fines they tend to not want to go back and use the library again but by waiving the fines it frees up the patrons to continue to use the library.

Now instead of late fees, patrons’ library accounts get suspended so they can’t borrow anything else until the items are returned.

“There’s still something that encourages people to come back, it’s just not a monetary thing.”

“They can walk in, have a book that’s been overdue for two years, drop it into return, and then go and borrow a book that very same day.”

However, the library still has a lost book charge but are quite flexible depending on the status of the book Kimberly said.

If the book is newer and of a certain age, then patrons may be charged but if it’s only been read by a small number of people or reached the end of its lifespan then the lost fee is often waived.

Libraries are intended to be accessible and inclusive community spaces so removing library fines makes our library service more accessible to all, in particular, the most vulnerable in our communities.

Kimberly said this returns process also removes the embarrassment that some patrons may feel about having an overdue fine. An issue that staff are particularly aware of with young parents and older patrons who may have forgotten the return date.

This method incentivises borrowers and provides those who cannot afford fines with a genuine alternative for accessing library resources without fear of unaffordable charges

“It’s something that all libraries are moving towards,” Kimberly said. “I speak to a lot of our network and a lot of them are on the same page, they’re just looking at formalising it through Council.”

Over 30 NSW library services have removed overdue fines in recent times. The Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) and Australian Public Library Alliance (APLA) support the removal of overdue fines in public libraries.

This is based on the fact library fines undermine one of the core principles of public libraries – the provision of free and universal access to information.

The people who can least afford to pay fines are often the ones who need the library service the most.

There is no evidence that overdue fines encourages meaningful compliance, and they create a disproportionate administrative burden on staff.

Libraries worldwide that have removed overdue fees have reported seeing an increase in membership, circulation, and recovery of long overdue or lost items.

Although there may be a small direct negative financial impact in revenues, this is offset in savings in administration processes, increased staff availability, and access for the community.

By Brianna O’Rourke