Upper Hutt Libraries introduce zero fines initiative

Published on 13 November 2020

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From Monday 16 November, Upper Hutt Libraries will become the fourth library in New Zealand to remove overdue fees, meaning customers will no longer be fined for overdue items they have borrowed.

Overdue fines are charges incurred for the late return of borrowed library items. Both nationally and internationally research has shown that fining for overdue items as an incentive to return them does not work, but acts as a deterrent preventing people from making full use of library services.

A recent New Zealand study, “Libraries in times of economic downturn” by Lara J Sanderson, identifies barrier free libraries as a key factor for community wellbeing and that libraries play a positive role in community recovery.

“Fining for overdue library items creates a barrier preventing many people from accessing the valuable resources available from our libraries” says Upper Hutt Libraries Manager, Marion Read. “It is a form of social inequality and with COVID-19 still posing a threat to New Zealanders, and our economy, we need to ensure that our libraries are barrier free and easy to access for all Upper Hutt residents.”

In 2016 Upper Hutt Libraries removed fines from all children’s materials. The following year, children’s usage increased by 8%, demonstrating that the removal of the financial barrier of fines does result in increased membership and use of the collections.     

Detractors of the fines free movement worry that without fines in place, borrowed items will not be returned. However international studies, along with Upper Hutt Libraries own experience of removing fines for children’s materials, have clearly demonstrated that this is not the case. These studies show that with good circulation management systems in place, there was no significant difference in the number of items returned.

With the removal of overdue fines, Upper Hutt Libraries have implemented tighter processes to ensure that borrowed items are returned. Overdue reminders will continue to be sent out reminding borrowers that their items are required to be either renewed or returned. Borrowers that do not return or renew their items within 14 days of the due date will receive a billing notice and their borrowing privileges will be suspended until the overdue items are returned.

To launch the new initiative, Upper Hutt Libraries will be implementing a ‘Welcome Back’ campaign targeting people who haven’t used the libraries in recent years. The campaign will begin with a full amnesty for all outstanding overdue items that can be returned, and all outstanding overdue fees and charges will be waived. The amnesty will operate from 16 November 2020 to 30 January 2021.

The removal of fine charges for overdue library items will create a more positive customer experience for customers of Upper Hutt Libraries and encourage more people to use the libraries in the future.