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Okotoks Public Library does away with overdue fines

Library director says overdue charges can be a barrier to facility use and disproportionately impact specific groups in the community.
Okotoks Public Library director Sarah Gillie on Jan. 13, 2023. The library has joined others across Canada in scrapping late fees, which Gillie said disproportionately affected low-income families.

The Okotoks Public Library has joined a growing list of Canadian libraries that have scrapped fines on overdue books. 

Effective Jan. 1, the library is no longer charging fees for material returned late, although charges will remain for lost or damaged items. 

Director Sarah Gillie said she’s hopeful that removing overdue fines will allow more people to use the Riverside Drive facility, adding that some stop doing so after they’ve incurred charges. 

“We recognize the barrier that fines create so we’re doing what we can to remove that barrier,” Gillie said. “That's the goal. 

“Fines can be a significant expense to those with no or low income and in some cases people, even if they can afford to pay the fines, they’re embarrassed having fines on their account, so they don’t want to come back to the library because they’re embarrassed to pay them.” 

The library is also waiving old fines in the hope it might see some former customers return. 

Gillie said library officials recognize that fines disproportionately impact specific groups, including families, youth, seniors and newcomers, so doing away with them will help address that inequity. 

“We're trying to be more inclusive in our community so we’re hoping this will help,” she said. “We're really excited to be able to start this initiative.” 

Loan periods and renewal options remain the same, but if a book is not returned, the replacement cost is charged to the customer’s account. Once the item is returned in good condition, the fee is removed from the account. 

“There are still consequences if you don’t return a book at all but if you get stuck and can’t return it on the date it’s due, there’s no fee,” Gillie said. 

She said studies have shown most libraries that have eliminated overdue fines haven’t seen an increase in the length of time an item is checked out and, in fact, some have seen returns before the due date happen more often. 

Gillie said scrapping overdue fines won’t have much of a fiscal impact as it makes up about one per cent of the library’s operating budget and it was often time consuming to collect payments. She believes there will be reduced wait times at the front desk as customers no longer have to line up to pay fines. 

“For us, we felt it was a viable trade-off. It wasn't a large revenue stream and it promotes goodwill in the community and with our patrons,” she said. 

Gillie said initial feedback has been positive. 

“People are excited; they think it’s great," she added. "We're so excited we’re able to do this and we’re really thankful for the town’s support.”