Fine reduction at public libraries

Here is a great compilation of ideas about reading away overdue library fines.  It is brought to you courtesy of Anita Young, Children’s Librarian, Stanislaus County Library and the PubYac crowd.

I think I would limit this possibility to teens or school aged children because I would expect parents to be responsible for children’s books taken out prior to their entry into school.  That said, in one of the libraries I worked with in the past parents would often use their children’s cards for their own books because the fines on the children’s cards were less expensive.  This strikes me as a better solution.  And it is likely parents will use their own card if there is no actual reduction in fines with a child’s card.

Here is what the PubYac crowd said:

-Most libraries offered a fine-reduction program only to children, mostly 0 up to age 17 or 18. Some targeted teens specifically.
-One library’s program was for grades K – 5 only
-A few libraries offered the program to children, teens and adults; one library proposed a program specifically for teens
-Queens Library allows children who read to each other to both earn credits
-One library clears fines of all children’s materials, no matter the age of the card-holder – reading credit is transferable [atypical]

-A typical amount of overdue fines forgiven was 15 minutes equals $1/60 minutes equals $4
-Others credited 30 minutes equals $1
-60 minutes equals $1 (the least generous amount)
-20 minutes equals $2
-Several libraries did a “food for fines” program with $1 taken off fines for every item donated [food drive took place during summer months when food banks have trouble getting enough food donated to meet client needs]. There usually is a cap of $5 – $10/customer

-Reading was to be done IN the library, under the supervision/observation of library staff. Younger children could be read to by older children, teens or adult caregivers
-Some libraries provided a specific chair for the reading
-Customers need to sign-in with staff before beginning to read
-One library used bookmarks with built-in timers [vendor’s website:]
-One combined a Read to a Dog program with fine reduction
-Coupons often were designed as a “Library Buck”

-Many programs were offered as part of a Summer Reading program

Two libraries offered coupons as an alternative prize

Multnomah County Library lets customers choose up to 2 coupons which are worth up to $15, for a total of $30. Coupons/reading credits were typically non-transferable
-Queens Library started with overdue fines only, then expanded to include all fines and fees. Children/teens read for as many hours as needed to clear their cards (once per school year, plus once during Summer Reading, as needed)
-One library has a calendar of dates and times posted online – customers need to read in the library on a designated date/time
-Coupons typically had to be used on the day the reading was done, not saved for future use
-One library allowed customers to use credits to cover the cost of replacing a library card, but only once per year
-One library offers a once-a-year amnesty program for returning lost or long-overdue items

Comments from libraries with successful programs

“One unanticipated benefit of the coupons is that it gives our circulation staff another tool when negotiating high fines – they can give kids the option of reading off $30 of fines and/or paying X amount, then waive the remainder, for example.”

“It’s a great opportunity to reach out to those who cannot always afford late fees.”

“This program…has generated much interest and positive publicity for the…Library.”

“We started with summer but now use it year round. It has been successful to help kids use their cards again.”

“We want to remove obstacles that prevent people from using the library, and this is a good way to do that. This helps us reach out to customers who many not be using the Library because of fines on their account.”

“Since the possibility of collecting these fees was slim to none, it does not actually cost the System substantially.”

-Start with a pilot program at one or two locations
-Decide length of pilot program (i.e., during Summer Reading, one month only, etc.)
-Make the amount of fines reduced worth the effort (i.e., be fairly generous like 15 minutes equals $1 or 20 minutes equals $2)
-Decide whether the program will target children’s fines only, children’s materials only, all fines and fees regardless of customer’s age
-Decide whether the reading needs to be done at specific times (scheduled by library) or any time the library is open
-Advertise with posters in the library, online and by targeted mailings to parents of children with excessive fines
-Decide who oversees program and provide training for public services staff


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