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Palliser Regional Library eliminates overdue fines to make libraries accessible for all

'It’s not just Palliser Regional Library. Most, if not all, library systems are going fines-free across Canada and North America'
Palliser library 2
Palliser Regional Library's headquarters is located on Coteau Street. Photo by Jason G. Antonio

If you haven’t visited a library recently because you have plenty of overdue fines, take heart: Palliser Regional Library is eliminating those penalties immediately — including fines acquired years ago.

The organization — which has been waiving overdue fines since March 2020 because of the pandemic — is forgiving all overdue fines as of June 17. However, patrons will still have to pay penalties if they lose an item or damage materials in anyway. 

If patrons really want to pay their fines, they are encouraged to donate to their community library or to the Friends of the Library. This will help those organizations buy more books and other materials.  

This new policy is now in effect at all 20 Palliser Regional Library (PRL) branches, including the Moose Jaw Public Library (MJPL). 

The Moose Jaw branch has been included in the discussions about eliminating penalties from the beginning, while it has also been doing research about what effect this decision might have, explained Carolyn Graham, acting assistant library head. 

While fines were designed to encourage people to return their books, the overall result is some people have racked up large financial penalties. They may not be able to pay those fines, which forces them to stop using the library.

“So, we see eliminating fines as a way of providing more equitable access to library services for everyone in the community,” she said. 

Fines were an important source of revenue at one point, but that is no longer the case with the growth of e-books and other digital resources, Graham continued. Instead of having to physically return such materials, patrons simply lose access upon the expiry date.

Users of the MJPL accessed digital resources at a much higher rate when the building was closed during the pandemic. Further, the library encouraged users with physical books not to return them due to the initial fear that physical items could be contaminated. 

“It’s not just Palliser Regional Library. Most, if not all, library systems are going fines-free across Canada and North America,” Graham said.

If there are no fines, what incentive will patrons have to return their materials? Graham acknowledged that that is a question many have asked. She pointed to research from the United States that shows fines haven’t been that effective in encouraging people to return their items. Even without fines, people have returned their items roughly on time. 

“… But you still can’t just check books out forever and just never bring them back,” she said, “because about a month of the book being overdue, the patron would be billed for the book. And at that point, they couldn’t borrow any more physical materials until the book had been returned or paid for.”

The MJPL believes everyone should be able to use the library, including people for whom it may be difficult to pay overdue fines, said Graham. The library feels good about eliminating the fines and believes it’s a step in the right direction. Doing so also gives patrons a “clean slate” so they can start over and begin taking out books again. 

After more than a year with pandemic restrictions, the Moose Jaw Public library is looking better and better, she remarked. Patrons can now go into the stacks to check out books, in-person activities might soon return, and almost all staff have returned. However, the library’s hours are still on a temporary schedule.

“We’re not completely open, but it feels like it after a long shut down,” added Graham. 

Visit www.moosejawlibrary.ca or palliserlibrary.ca for more information.