Farewell to overdue fines.

Farewell to Overdue Fines

two patrons sitting at library table with books, cheering

That’s right! We said farewell to overdue fines and cleared them from all accounts. As of Jan. 2, 2020, Whatcom County Library System (WCLS) and Bellingham Public Library (BPL) are joining libraries across the country that are making this change. Eliminating overdue fines ensures greater access to library materials and services – after all, that’s what libraries are all about!

We no longer charge borrowers for returning library materials after the due date. We also eliminated existing overdue account balances so everyone starts fresh. Borrowers are still charged replacement costs for unreturned or damaged items. We do want library materials back! Questions? Ask us!

Eliminating Late Fines FAQ

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Patron giving a "thumbs up". text: Questions? Ask us!
When will these changes take effect?
Materials checked out beginning Jan. 2, 2020, will not incur late fines. Existing fines have been removed. Everyone is starting the new year with a clean slate. We hope this encourages people to return to the library.
Are fines being eliminated on all materials?
Yes, we are eliminating fines on all library materials. There will be replacement charges for lost or damaged items. Accounts will be blocked when charges reach $40 or more. Accounts that accrue $75 or more in charges will be referred to a collection agency.
How many WCLS cardholders couldn’t check out materials because they had too many overdue fines?
As of November, 2019, 8,422 (8.6% of total) WCLS cardholders owed $10 or more and were blocked from checking out materials.
How often do people return materials late?
The majority of library borrowers return their materials on time. In 2019, BPL and WCLS patrons returned 93.1 percent of items on time. Based on the experiences of other libraries that have stopped collecting overdue fines, we don’t expect to see a significant change in this number. We will continue to track the information.
What would stop someone from keeping books or other library materials if there are no fines?
To make sure items are returned, patrons will be charged a replacement cost for unreturned or damaged items and will have their borrowing privileges suspended after their account reaches $40 or more in fees.
Don’t overdue fines reinforce responsibility?
Research shows that eliminating fines on overdue material has little significant impact on return rates. We do not believe that overdue fines teach responsibility, nor do we think that is part of the library’s mission. It is our job to provide equitable access to information. By imposing fines and prohibiting people from borrowing books when the fines add up, we are negatively impacting the people who may need us the most.
How do overdue fines affect the library budget?
Fines make up just a small share of our operating budgets, and fines collected have decreased steadily for both BPL and WCLS for the past few years. At WCLS, fines collected represented .6% of the total system budget. Removing fines saves money and staff time by reducing the number of financial transactions we handle and eliminating other costs of collecting overdue fines.
What other Washington libraries have eliminated overdue fines?
In Washington state, the Seattle Public Library recently eliminated fines as part of its 2019 levy vote. Other Washington systems that have removed fines are Fort Vancouver Regional Library (Vancouver), Kitsap Regional Library (Bremerton), Port Townsend Public Library, San Juan Island Public Library, Sno-Isle Libraries (Marysville), Jefferson County Library (Port Hadlock/Olympic Peninsula), and Spokane Public Libraries.
Will existing unpaid collection agency fees get waived along with unpaid overdue items?
Unpaid collection agency fees will need to be paid.
I have library materials that are several years overdue. Can I really return them now and not be charged overdue fines?
Yes. We welcome the return of all library materials. You will not be charged overdue fines.
Will the holds lists be longer?
We will continue to run holds reports every two weeks and purchase more copies of a book, if needed. WCLS purchases more copies of a book to maintain a holds ratio of 4:1 for most collections. We are also moving up the dates we send return reminder notices to patrons. Return reminders will be sent when an item is three days overdue vs. seven days overdue. A second reminder is sent when the item is seven days overdue and, if needed, a third notice is sent when it is 14 days overdue.
Will auto renewals continue?
Yes, there is no change to the auto-renewal program.
How will this affect Inter-Library Loan (ILL) materials?
ILL materials will be treated the same as all other materials; they will not incur overdue fines, but patrons are responsible for lost or damaged items. ILL materials do not auto-renew.
Will we continue to send accounts to the collection agency?
Yes, in order to get as many materials back as possible, we will continue to work with a collection agency. Accounts will be forwarded to the collection agency when they are higher than $75. Accounts referred to the collection agency are not reported to credit bureaus nor do they impact patrons’ credit scores.
Do these changes apply to all patrons, even people who are not Whatcom County residents?
Yes, late fines will be eliminated on all materials regardless of where a patron lives.