Ottawa Public Library scraps late fees for overdue items
The downtown branch of the Ottawa Public Library.
OTTAWA -- The Ottawa Public Library is getting rid of late fees for overdue items.
Instead, the library will now use “moral suasion,” including email reminders and grace periods, to deal with customers who don’t return materials on time.
The library’s board of trustees voted in favour of the change Tuesday night.
“The notion of fees for overdue materials as a revenue source has become more prevalent and is fundamentally at odds with the overall mission of public libraries,” a staff report recommending the change said. “Late fees create barriers to accessing library services, especially for members of the community who are most at risk of exclusion.”
Fines for late items, the report said, create iniquity and administrative costs, and should not be relied upon as a revenue source. In particular, they act as a barrier for marginalized communities.
“Fear of accruing fines is a significant barrier that undermines OPL’s ability to make connections with people who may not be able to assume the financial risk of borrowing library materials,” the report says.
More than 270 public libraries across North America have either eliminated or reduce late fees for library materials.
The board voted Tuesday night to move toward what it calls a “materials recovery model” which relies on tactics other than late fees to encourage timely returns, chief among them “moral suasion,” the report says. That mostly entails email reminders and grace periods.
Under the new model, there will still be costs for people who hold onto overdue items for too long.
Any items not returned by the end of a grace period—21 days for regular items and seven for express items—will be classified as lost, and given a replacement cost.
The borrower will not be allowed to take out more materials until they return the item or pay the replacement cost.
Accounts with replacement costs over $50 for more than 90 days will be referred to a collection agency. A $15 “referral fee” will be added, and card privileges suspended. Cardholders referred to the collection agency for more than 120 days will be credit-recorded.
The move will have an impact of just over $1 million, which library staff have been directed to address as part of the 2021 budget.