A year after granting amnesty to patrons who didn’t return borrowed items on time, the Vancouver Public Library reports a slight increase in the number of book-hoarding scofflaws.
Although waiving late fees represents hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in lost revenue, library officials say this story is not a tragedy, but one with a happy ending.
The VPL scrapped overdue fines starting in June 2022, as a measure to “reduce barriers to library service and increase equity.”
The library said this week that it currently has about 47,000 items identified as overdue or lost, about 18 per cent of its inventory of 269,000 items, a slight increase from the 15 per cent overdue or lost items recorded in 2019, the last full year before the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The impact on our bottom line has been negligible from a financial perspective,” the VPL’s manager of marketing and communications Scott Fraser wrote in an emailed statement. The lost revenue from overdue fines represents about one per cent of the VPL’s total budget of $59 million.
“From a social benefit perspective, the impact has been very positive. We have received many positive comments from patrons who now feel more welcome to use the library and express gratitude for the fine-free service.”
The library board sought city council’s approval in 2020 to pursue the “fine-free initiative” by adjusting its annual budget over three years to eliminate the revenue from overdue fees. This meant eliminating $625,000 in revenue from overdue fees, which represents less than 0.1 per cent of the city’s overall 2022 operating budget of $1.75 billion.
If a borrowed item is not returned within 23 days of its due date, a lost item charge is applied on the library user’s account. The VPL website says cardholders will lose their borrowing privileges if they have more than 10 items overdue.
Vancouver’s 2022 budget reveals that the library reported the “highest levels of satisfaction of all City of Vancouver services.” After dipping in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, the use of the library’s collection rebounded in 2021 and exceeded pre-pandemic levels.
When the VPL sought city council’s approval in 2020 to waive fees, library board chair Jennifer Chan told council their staff heard “heart-wrenching stories too often when that small error of returning an item late and (subsequent) fine keeps library services from those who need them most,” Glacier Media reported.
Other Canadian public libraries have also eliminated late fees recently, including some on Vancouver Island and in Ontario and Quebec
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