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Vancouver won't follow Whistler in eliminating library late fees

Libraries generate about 1% of revenue from fines for returning items late
Vancouver Public Library generates $2.8 million per year from fines and recoveries | VPL

The Whistler Public Library (WPL) announced August 27 that it has immediately eliminated charging late fees but that business strategy is unlikely to soon be in place in Vancouver.

The WPL board of trustees supported an end to late fees partly because they were not a significant source of revenue but also because trustees saw the fees as an obstacle for some to use the library.

“Fines are less than 1% of our operating revenue and do not represent the relationship we want to have with the community, which is one of altruism and good will,” said WPL board chair Gord Annand.

The WPL has been considering eliminating late fees for several years.

For more than 10 years, children’s books have not been accruing fines and staff have been empowered to use discretion to waive or reduce fines. The increased use of electronic resources like eBooks and eAudiobooks have also reduced the amount of fines because items self-return after use.

The new process in Whistler is to charge patrons the full replacement cost if library materials are not returned after six weeks. 

No such plan is in place at Vancouver Public Library (VPL), VPL chief librarian Sandra Singh told Business in Vancouver.

The VPL, in 2016, generated $624,377 from fines. That's 1.3% of the library’s $48.6 million budget and about 12.3% of the $5.1 million that the library spent last year to buy books and publications.

More than 88% of the library's budget was funding from the City of Vancouver.

Singh said that the library has no offset for fine revenue so if the library did not get fine revenue, it may have to cut services.

“For many people, fines are an incentive to return items on time,” Singh said. “We need items to be returned on time so they become available for other people in the community to use.”

VPL has not charged late fines for materials taken out on children's library cards for many years because it does not want those fines to be a barrier in having children access the library's collection, she said.

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