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Overdue fines killed by Surrey Libraries as more eBooks are borrowed and fine revenue declines

All historic overdue fines on patron records have also been erased
Shelves of books at the Newton branch of Surrey Libraries. (Photo: Tom Zillich)

Surrey Libraries has eliminated overdue fines on all borrowed materials.

Surrey’s public library system had been fine-free since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, in March 2020, and now the move is permanent.

Overdue library fines can be a barrier to some residents using library services, administrators say.

“Suspending fines during the pandemic showed us that fines are not what prompt people to return books and materials to the library,” Surinder Bhogal, Surrey Libraries’ chief librarian, said in a Jan. 31 news release.

“Eliminating fines actually provides more equitable access to library services, increases users and circulation of materials, and reduces lost materials.”

All historic overdue fines on patron records have also been erased.

However, the change will not affect due dates, nor fees charged for lost or damaged items. Library-goers are still responsible for charges related to unreturned, damaged, and lost material.

According to Surrey Libraries, total revenue from fines was less than 1.2 per cent of the organization’s annual operating budget in 2019.

“Revenue from fines was also steadily decreasing in the last decade, with many patrons switching to eBooks and eAudio which are returned to the library automatically on the due date,” the news release notes.

In September 2021, Surrey Libraries’ board voted to permanently eliminate overdue fines, pending city council approval of Surrey’s five-year financial plan last Dec. 24.

“The effort and resources deployed to collect the amount of fines cost approximately half of what is generated in overdue fines revenue,” a report to city council says. “Eliminating such fines would result in increased library usage, reduced conflicts between customers and staff, and return of more borrowed library materials.”

Regionally, several neighbouring library systems have also eliminated overdue fines, including the Fraser Valley Regional Library, Burnaby Public Library and Richmond Public Library.

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Tom Zillich

About the Author: Tom Zillich

I cover entertainment, sports and news stories for the Surrey Now-Leader, where I've worked for more than half of my 30-plus years in the newspaper business.
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