As of next week, the library has now been officially ‘Fine Free’ for one year! If you’re wondering what kind of impact that policy change had on our library, then this might just be the column you’re looking for…
First, and most importantly, what kind of effect did this have on our budget? After all, late fees accounted for roughly 2% of our annual income, so were we able to get through a year without that revenue? Yes! It looks like our budget will be balanced by the end of the fiscal year. Interestingly enough, we still technically collected late fees last year. Between lost items and charges put on by other libraries in our system, we have still collected more than $500, which is why ‘fine free’ is in quotes at the start of this column.
As far as other measurable outcomes that may have been impacted by eliminating late fees, let’s look at overall circulation and new library card signups. Average monthly checkouts have increased about 20% from the previous fiscal year and new cardholders have increased only slightly overall with an average of three more new patrons per month. While we would like to attribute these results to going fine free, there are other factors that likely played a role in boosting our statistics. Since offering automatic renewals on most items last June, checkouts increased while online renewals have dropped off almost entirely. We are also offering new collection items and services to meet the changing needs of the community, which could all be contributing to more checkouts and signups.
For our staff, not having to bring up fees on our transactions makes it easier to interact with patrons. We no longer have to clear our throats and whisper ‘do you know you owe $0.40 from March 2015?’ and can now just get to checking out your items that we know you’re not going to return on time anyway.