Removing Barriers to Access: Eliminating Overdue Fines

Beginning in the Fall 2018 semester, the William H. Hannon Library will no longer charge fines on overdue books from our main stacks and basement collections. There are many reasons why we have decided to take this action. You can read about them in detail below. Our goal at the library is to connect students with information resources, not hinder their access. Overdue fines, in most cases, make achieving that goal difficult.

While the vast majority of the items in our collections will no longer incur overdue fines, a few things are worth noting:

  • Overdue fines will still be charged for specialized items, including equipment, media, reserves, popular reading, curriculum materials, bound journals, LINK+ and interlibrary loan materials.
  • Replacement fees (i.e. if you never return something) will still be charged as well.

If you have any questions about this new policy, please contact Circulation.

Justifications for Removing Fines

At the William H. Hannon Library, we recently extended borrowing loan lengths for all students to one semester. This is a great step toward fulfilling the library’s strategic principle to transform the user experience to promote optimal utilization of library resources, tools, and services. We believe that we can take another step in support of LMU’s mission of the encouragement of learning, the education of the whole person, and the service of faith and promotion of justice by eliminating overdue fines on some of our materials. By eliminating fines for non-reserve, non-media items we will significantly enhance the student experience at the library. Students will only be fined should they fail to return what they have borrowed. Only high-demand titles such as reserves, items with a 3-week circulation loan period or items which have been recalled, will continue to be subject to overdue fines.

The classic disciplinary argument for overdue fines is that they ensure the timely return of library materials, by inducing shame and financial hardship; this is countered by the fact that library users routinely ignore overdue fines when their need for the borrowed material continues. Meanwhile, there is strong evidence that these fines are a significant barrier to access. Many people respond with strong resentment to even a small fee; some never return to the library at all. Eliminating the fines changes the library’s role from judge and enforcer, to a user-centered partner for student research.

In addition to removing the barrier to access, the elimination of fines streamlines circulation procedures, increasing efficiency and raising morale at the circulation desk. Staff spend a significant amount of time communicating our circulation policies to students, either by phone, email or in person when they respond to an overdue fine notice. These encounters take up significant amounts of time, often over multiple encounters to resolve just one student’s issues. The result is lost productivity, while the financial gain from these transactions is low. With regard to morale, discussions about overdue fines are often contentious, and stressful for both the staff member and the student.

Students encounter additional frustration when they arrive to discuss their overdue fines, only to find that the staff member who can provide resolution may be out to lunch, or unavailable to resolve the matter, thus requiring a return trip. Eliminating routine overdue fines would allow circulation staff to focus on high-impact projects.

Similar policies have been tested and retained in academic and public libraries of all sizes. There is well-established precedent for this change. A number of academic libraries have successfully eliminated overdue fines: for example, the California State Library systems, the Universities of California, the College of William & Mary, Sweet Briar College, Randolph College, Rutgers University, New York University, Vanderbilt University, Brown University, Connecticut, Notre Dame, Tennessee, and others. Most of them also offer longer lending periods. Reports of their results show another significant benefit: eliminating overdue fines leads to a considerable increase in positive awareness of the library and its services.

While decades-old thinking has dictated that libraries need overdue fines to insure the books return, New York University’s study showed that a longer lending periods had lower overall overdues and a better rate of return (Rupp, Sweetman, and Perry, 2010). Furthermore, while the semester loan extension allows borrowers greater loan time, the 3 week recall is too long and should be shortened to ten days, which is adequate enough time for a patron to use the item, return it, or request another copy through consortium or interlibrary loan.

Cited and Additional Sources

Mosley, P.A. (2004). Moving Away From Overdue Fines: One Academic Library’s New Direction. Journal of Access Services, 2 (1), 11-21.

Rupp, E., Sweetman, K., & Perry, D. (2010). Updating Circulation Policy for the 21St Century. Journal of Access Services, 7 (3), 159-175.

Wilson, D. (2014). Why Can’t They Keep the Book Longer and Do We Really Need to Charge Fines? Assessing Circulation Polities at the Harold B. Lee Library: A Case Study. Journal of Access Services, 11 (3), 135-149.