For those who saw their overdue fines as a donation to the library, it may not seem like much. But for library users who would pay off their overdue fines a dollar at a time in order to keep it below the "freeze" amount—or who stopped going to the library altogether because of a book lost years ago or for whom the possibility of having to pay fines was enough to keep them away—it should make a big difference.
Halifax Public Libraries CEO Åsa Kachan says there are many reasons someone may end up with overdue fines: limited access to child care; limited access to transportation; employment opportunities that are sporadic; families that don't have a regular schedule. Most often, fines were disproportionately affecting the most vulnerable in our community.
"A library fine actually creates a barrier to access," says Kachan. "Removing a barrier like a library fine gives everyone in our community the opportunity to have a lifelong relationship with their public library. From a card as a baby through to their retirement and into their later years."
That's awesome. I tried to get my daughter a library card and the website wouldn't let me because of fees that I had from like 15 years previously. That was some time ago but I never did try again.— Adapheon (@geoabraxas) August 5, 2020
Because of changes in user behaviour, checking out e-books and electronic resources that are automatically returned, the revenue the library received from fines was decreasing yearly anyway—and in light of COVID, the library had already decided to eliminate fines for the rest of 2020. Fines accounted for less than one percent of the library's budget. Kachan says she thinks users will notice the benefit of being able to use the library without worrying about fines much more than the effect of any lost revenue.
Kachan cuts through the bureaucracy often cited by other arms of HRM when talking about how it's just so complex to change things in government and public services (looking at you Board of Police Commissioners and HRP) and makes a simple case for this kind of people-first change:
Kachan says there were around 37,000 users who had their cards blocked due to fines, who now can walk into the library worry-free. Some of the fines have been there for decades, tied to a book lost in the back of a closet or forgotten at a park.
Perhaps there's a book sitting on your shelf you've meant to bring back but felt shame about doing so. This change is for you. The library misses you.
"We operate on a basis of trust with our community," says Kachan. "I believe that the more trust and the more respect we show to our community, the more trust and the more respect we get back."
The library will still charge fees for lost books, but what it wants more than its money back on a book your dog chewed to bits is for you to use the library for all its worth, as often as you want, for the rest of your life.