A stack of books sits on the table with a phone showing an audiobook on the screen.
Vancouver Island residents can now borrow without fear of being locked out of their account due to fees they can't afford to pay. Photo courtesy of VIRL
Nanaimo Vancouver Island

Community shout-out: Vancouver Island Regional Library trials no late fees

With growing evidence on the barriers late fees create, VIRL extends its pause on late fees for another year.
Lys Morton January 6, 2022

This year started with Vancouver Island Regional Library (VIRL) announcing adult reading materials would continue to be free from late fees as they start a year-long pilot project that follows the lead of numerous libraries across the country.

VIRL had stopped collecting late fees on kids materials at the start of 2019 and late fees on all other materials were halted at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic to help discourage unnecessary travel to library locations. Although accounts continued to show an accumulation of late fees, VIRL assured patrons it was simply part of an automatic system and all fines would be waived once items were returned.

Fees were brought back in the final quarter of 2021 as health regulations eased up and more patrons returned to libraries in-person. But David Carson, VIRL’s director of corporate communications and strategic initiatives, notes that the return of late fees once again highlighted the barrier it created.

“One of the key tenets of the library is to provide equal, open access and by charging late fees, we risk running counter to this idea. If removing late fees means more people can take advantage of the great range of resources available at their library, we see that as a huge win.”

Various programs and events had been used even before 2019 to encourage patrons to make use of their local libraries, including a Welcome Back Week in 2016 that waived $20 of late fees per account. 

But the accumulation of fines still kept many people from accessing the library even after late items were returned. Pre-pandemic, VIRL locked out a client once $10 in fines had accumulated, which barred patrons from accessing WiFi, printing services and other programs that required account information.

That limit was raised to $40 in an effort to keep from locking clients out of their card if only one item was deemed lost. As of now, the limit remains at $40 while VIRL pilots the no late fees program.

While an argument for keeping late fees is the need to pressure patrons to return materials, David says new strategies will be implemented to encourage people to bring items back on time.

“We are still sending out notices to remind people when their materials come due and then become overdue. After 120 days, we can charge a replacement fee to offset the cost of buying a new copy. However, our experience tells us that most library users will still return their materials on time and we do not anticipate this campaign negatively impacting anyone’s ability to make the most of their library.”

As for the loss of revenue from collecting late fees, VIRL is confident they will come out ahead in the long run.

“In terms of revenue, that which was accrued through late fees was modest when compared against our entire operating budget and when staff time was considered,” David says. “Our programming budgets will not be impacted and we do not expect to see negative outcomes to our services and resources.”

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