Libraries flick fines for good

Published: 04 Jul 2019

Mackay Regional Council Libraries are taking some radical steps to boost regional literacy and return residents to our libraries.

Council Libraries are doing away with overdue fees and are increasing the number of times that your borrowed items will be automatically renewed from two to ten times (unless a prior reservation exists).

Not only will there be no new fees for overdue books, existing overdue fees will be wiped clean.

Cr Fran Mann said doing away with overdue fees had a whole raft of benefits.

“Every time we’ve held an amnesty on fines in the past, we always see an influx in members return who had been avoiding the library simply because they had accrued overdue fines,” Cr Mann said.

“The last thing we want to do is create barriers that prevent library clients enjoying our services,” she said.  

“So now we are getting rid of that barrier for good.

“One of our libraries’ key goals is to boast literacy levels in our region – overdue fees discourage those who might take a little longer to read through a book or who might live remotely.

“If you know you’re not going to get through a book in a few weeks, or you know you won’t make it back to a library as often as someone who lives in a residential area, then chances are you might be put off borrowing.

"We are confident that more people will borrow library resources because they now have more time to enjoy them and they're not under strict deadlines.

"Hopefully people who take more time to read will feel more comfortable borrowing books from our libraries.

“After all, it’s often those disadvantaged people in our community that can least afford library fines, that often benefit the most from free information, books and access to our services.”

Cr Mann said rewarding, not punishing, proactive parents and guardians was also a huge motivation behind this decision.

“We have so many wonderful mums, dads, grandparents and guardians who come into the library and borrow a dozen or more books to read to their young children under their care.

“We know being a parent is hectic and you might not always get those books back on time and we know that when you start accruing fees on large numbers of books, it doesn’t take long to significantly hit your hip pocket.

“Up to 90 per cent of brain development happens in the first five years of a child’s life, so nurturing a love of reading in those early years pays amazing dividends.”

For those who are concerned that removing overdue fees will hurt council’s budget, Cr Mann said council made little revenue off overdue fees and also invested staff hours chasing, monitoring and recovering overdue fees that could better be used enhancing services.

“Trials in Sydney have shown that residents were actually much more likely to return overdue books when there were no fines or perceived ‘punishment’ waiting for them,” she said.

Fees for replacing and repairing damaged books and library resources would remain.

Facts about fines

  • Tasmania scrapped late fees in November 2018 – 8000 new members signed up in the next five months.  In the same period the previous year membership had fallen by 900 members.
  • The City of Sydney Council conducted a trial and found that without the threat of a fine or punishment, three times as many books were returned to their libraries.  Borrowing also increased.
  • Fraser Coast Regional Council saw increased memberships and visitor numbers to their libraries for the first time in 14 years after late fees were abolished.
  • Raymond McLaren returned Knots, Splices and Fancy Work, a book he borrowed from the Newcastle library in 1957 (19,350 days later) and happily paid a $5000 fine/donation. It’s thought to be Australia’s largest library “fine”. McLaren used what he learnt from the book to build a cable and rigging company that has become a multi-million-dollar enterprise.  The book was gifted back to McLaren by the library.
  • A copy of Insectivorous Plants by Charles Darwin was borrowed from the Camden School of Arts Lending Library in Sydney in 1889 and was returned on July 22, 2011.  The book was overdue for 122 years and late fees were estimated at $35,000.  No fines were charged.