Your library is Fine Free
In July 2020, the West Fargo Public Library became one of the few libraries in North Dakota to do away with overdue fines for library materials. Eliminating fines for overdue materials allows the WFPL to build stronger relationships with patrons and provide more equitable access to materials, services and resources.
Why go Fine Free?
Fines of any size are an economic barrier to utilizing the library, which leads to inequitable access to the library based on a patron's ability to pay fines. Library policies may also block these patrons from library use if fines accumulate. This can cause significant issues for those who may rely on library services. The inability to pay fines can also end up discouraging patrons from returning their late items. When this happens, our collection of materials takes a loss. Libraries that have adopted fine-free policies have seen an increase in returned materials.
The elimination of fines also helps the West Fargo Public Library cultivate a friendly atmosphere and more efficient operations. Instead of addressing a patron's outstanding fines and then collecting and managing said fines, WFPL staff are able to devote their time to other patron-focused services.
The West Fargo Public Library no longer charges fines for overdue materials. No new fines accumulate on accounts except in the case of lost or damaged items.
What does Fine Free mean?
"Under this policy, patrons with overdue items aren't turned away due to financial circumstances," Library Director Carissa Hansen said. “This is an incredibly important step for us, as we aim to be accessible to all people regardless of socioeconomic status. We don’t want patrons to avoid the library or be unable to use our resources due to inability to pay a fine.”
What about lost or damaged items?
Patrons still have to pay to replace lost or damaged items. Materials that are 28 days overdue are automatically billed to the patron account and the patron will be notified. If those materials are returned in good condition, the fee will be removed from the account.
Will there still be due dates? Yes. Patrons are still expected to return items by their due date.
What happens if someone doesn't return their items?
Materials that are 28 days overdue are automatically billed to the patron account and the patron will be notified. If those materials are returned in good condition, the fee will be removed from the account, no strings attached.
How does this affect the library's budget? For many libraries, the pros of adopting fine-free policies significantly outweigh any cons. In our case, the West Fargo Public Library is actually saving money as we no longer have to pay the costs associated with charging fines.
With no fines, won't people just keep the materials?
Case studies have shown that eliminating fines does not mean that people stop returning items. In fact, it can have the opposite effect because people no longer face the shame of having to pay a fine upon return of their items. Eliminating fines does not mean that the library stops assessing fees for damaged or lost items.
Sources and further reading
ALA Resolution on Monetary Library Fines as a Form of Social Inequity
St. Paul Public Library Fine Free FAQ
Wall Street Journal: Finally, Feel Free to Return that Library Book You Checked out in 1981
Library Journal: St. Paul Public Library's Fine (Free) Thing
NPR: 'We Wanted Our Patrons Back' - Public Libraries Scrap Late Fines to Alleviate Inequity
Removing Barriers to Access: Eliminating Library Fines and Fees on Children's Materials
Not So Fine with Library Fines? A Look at the Overdue Debate
Eliminating Late Fines: Improving access to your library fact sheet