Library fines, source of revenue or deterrent to readers?

273/365: 09/30/2013. Money, Money, Money!Should libraries charge fines or shouldn’t they? This seems to be a question that is increasingly being asked by libraries and library administrators. In her recent article on Lit Reactor, Leah Dearborn asks us to think beyond the assumption of library fines’ existence and to think of other solutions to the issue.

The impact of library fines “can be both negative and positive,” says Dearborn. “[I]t’s a more complex problem than it might initially appear. On the one hand, no fees means lost revenue for libraries that may already be struggling to pay their staff and keep up with material costs. But on the other side of the fence, fines risk deterring low-income patrons from a public educational service.”

This seems to be the crux of the debate. Libraries use fines to deter loss, theft, abuse, and gain some much needed revenue. However, on the other side, libraries shouldn’t use fines to deter users or lose readers. Interestingly, the American Library Association (ALA) largely discourages the implementation of fines, fees, and user charges.

Some libraries are getting creative with how they are addressing fines. Some St. Paul Libraries recently offered a “Do Down” where teens could learn, experiment, and produce things with technology to eliminate their fines. Locally, Great River Regional has had several “Read down your fines” events.

How do you help your users reduce fines? How about a Fine Amnesty Program?

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