Christchurch City Council plans to scrap library fines for late books

Library fines for late books would be waived under a recommendation to be considered by Christchurch City Council next week.

Photo: Unsplash / Jessica Ruscello

A growing number of libraries in New Zealand and overseas are waiving fines, including in Auckland, Dunedin, San Francisco and New York.

They found that return rates increased when fine-free policies were introduced.

Fines for late items are currently charged at 70 cents per day, up to a maximum of $21 per item at Christchurch Public Libraries.

Memberships are blocked once people have $30 or more in outstanding fines and fees, or are owed fines for more than 21 days.

Once this happens, they cannot borrow materials, put them on hold, or access electronic resources.

Council staff recommended getting rid of library fines and canceling all debts beginning in March, at an estimated cost to taxpayers of $300,000 in lost revenue each year, although the move would result in $40,000 $ in administrative savings.

A report noted that libraries regularly receive comments about fines from people under financial pressure, those who believe the tariffs cover all costs and borrowers surprised by the amount they have been ordered to pay. .

Councilor Sara Templeton said library fines could have unintended consequences for families facing financial hardship, such as a woman whose $50 library fine prevented her children from borrowing books.

“His two daughters, 10 and 11, were only able to pull out two books each. They had gone to pick up books and had a big pile of them, but they couldn’t just in case the mother had books. for adults on children’s cards,” she said.

People’s credit scores could also be affected if they were referred to debt collectors, she said,

“At a time when everyone is going into a lot of detail with people’s credit in terms of mortgages and that sort of thing, a small library fine, I heard, had an impact on the ability of people to do this kind of thing,” she said.

The report says removing fines would improve equity of access for those who could least afford it.

“Originally, fines were intended to motivate customers to return items in order to improve collection access for other customers. Instead, fines have become a barrier, especially for customers who cannot afford to pay,” the report said.

Templeton said people tended to return books early if they didn’t attract late fees.

“It seems counterintuitive, but actually, once people know a book is overdue, there’s a bit of shame,” she said.

“If you lose a book or don’t return it, there will always be a replacement cost for that book that people will be charged, so there’s no incentive to keep the books forever.”

Children and young people up to the age of 18 and borrowers who are members of a concession are exempt from paying fines at Christchurch City Libraries.

The proposal will be considered by the board at a meeting next Thursday.

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