Farewell to overdue fines.

Farewell to Overdue Fines

That’s right! On Jan. 2, 2020, we said farewell to overdue fines and cleared them from all accounts. By taking this step, Whatcom County Library System (WCLS) and Bellingham Public Library (BPL) joined 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 started fresh. Borrowers are charged replacement costs for unreturned or damaged items. We do want library materials back! Questions? Ask us!

two patrons sitting at library table with books, cheering

Eliminating Late Fines FAQ

(Click on question to view answer)

Patron giving a "thumbs up". text: Questions? Ask us!
Were fines eliminated on all materials?
Yes, we eliminated fines on all library materials. There are replacement charges for lost or damaged items. Accounts are blocked when charges reach $40 or more.
Before this change went into effect, 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 our experience since making this change as well as reports from other libraries that have stopped collecting overdue fines, we don’t expect a significant change in this number.
What would stop someone from keeping books or other library materials if there are no fines?
To make sure items are returned, patrons are charged a replacement cost for unreturned or damaged items. Borrowing privileges are suspended after an 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 were negatively impacting the people who may have needed us the most.
How did overdue fines affect the library budget?
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 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.
Are holds lists longer as a result of this change?
We run holds reports every two weeks and purchase more copies of a book, if needed. For most collections, WCLS purchases one copy of a book for every four patrons on the wait list. We also moved up the dates we send return reminder notices to patrons. Return reminders are 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.
Did auto renewals continue after the change?
There was no change to the auto-renewal program. If no one else is waiting for an item, it can renew up to three times.
How did this affect Inter-Library Loan (ILL) materials?
ILL materials are treated the same as all other materials; they do not incur overdue fines, but patrons are responsible for lost or damaged items. ILL materials do not auto-renew.
Do these changes apply to all patrons, even people who are not Whatcom County residents?
Yes, late fines have been eliminated on all materials regardless of where a patron lives.