Fine Free FAQ

On July 1st, 2021, Ilsley is going fine free. A fine free library does not assess fines for books and materials returned past their due date. Fees—which are assessed for materials that are lost, damaged, or stolen—are different from fines, and will still be charged. Going fine free is a growing trend in American public libraries. Over the past decade many public libraries have eliminated fines and have reported increased visits and circulation as a result. Here are answers to some questions about the new policy:

If there are no fines, why would anyone return a book on time?
Patrons will have borrowing privileges suspended for unreturned items, so there is a still incentive to return books on time. Patrons will also still be billed for lost materials. By keeping fees and removing fines, we can keep the incentive to return items while eliminating the punitive measures that discourage use.

Don’t overdue fines help teach responsibility?
The library’s primary mission is to “bring people and ideas together to foster public dialogue, build community, and enrich lives.” Even if teaching responsibility was the library’s primary goal, fines aren’t an effective tool to do so. A majority of people want to return their books on time, but life gets in the way; a child misplaces a book, plans change at the last minute, etc. There is no research to demonstrate that fines help teach responsibility.

Will patrons still be charged for lost or damaged items?
Yes, fees will remain in place. Patrons that have unpaid fees will have their accounts locked until those fees can be paid.

Even if people have incentive to return books, won’t they return them more slowly if we go fine free?
The vast majority of libraries that have made the change to a fine free system have found that overdue fines do not affect how fast people bring books back; return rates are the same before and after.

I heard that going fine free can actually result in more materials being returned to the library. Is this possible?
It is possible! Many libraries experience an increase in returned materials after eliminating fines. This is because some people who can’t afford to pay fines on an overdue book will decide to not bother bringing it back. Additionally, some patrons are embarrassed to bring items back late and would rather keep the book than face library staff and pay a fine. Ilsley has had “amnesty days” in the past, where patrons can return overdue books and have their fines waived, and we have found we get a plethora of materials returned on those days!