“Neal, before you check out another book, you’ll have to pay the fines you owe.”
“No problem, how much is the fine?”
“About $54 in overdue fees. That can be in cash or credit.” I sheepishly turned my head toward my father, who looked at me disapprovingly.
“Neal, you have to be more responsible about returning your books on time.” I felt terrible, and I couldn’t comprehend this had happened. Perhaps it had been from the novels I checked out a month earlier — I had returned them late, but only because I had been so invested in reading them. Yikes. I didn’t even have $54.
“Credit is fine,” my father offered his card forward, glancing at me once more. I was ashamed. After that incident, I was scared to check out more books for many months. What if my books were overdue again? Even now, I shudder at the thought.
When book fines accumulate, people no longer want to step in their library, let alone return their overdue books. Often, the reason is innocuous — cases where people intentionally steal or horde library books are. After all, why would we steal what we already have full access to? About 92% of libraries charge book fines and fees, and most suspend borrowing privileges, printer usage and other services once fines reach a threshold. Libraries have stood for centuries as magical safe-havens of knowledge and peace, and book fines do nothing but encourage shame and avoidance. Book fines exist because people are forgetful. However, the underlying question remains: Why punish knowledge-seekers for seeking knowledge?
We must eliminate library book fines. This past Oct. 1, the Chicago Public Library system removed all overdue book fines. Within a month, libraries saw a 240% surge in the amount of returned books, and a drastically positive response from library-goers. Chicago Public Library Commissioner Andrea Telli testified that “abandoning the library fines policy has been instrumental in luring both patrons and books.”
Removing overdue fines helps to increase library access and removes a very real barrier for people who most need and use the library’s collections. A recent study examined examined how implementing a “late pickup” fee would work to incentivize parents in daycares. After the fine was applied, the number of late pickups increased, since the parents no longer felt guilty for letting their children stay overtime. The penalty replaced guilt, which could no longer act as a motivator. This is known as the “Deterrence Hypothesis,” which directly connects the effectiveness of removing library book fines. Guilt is a powerful motivator.
Moves like removing library book fines are often seen as too high-risk, and as a result, institutions avoid the implementation of such ideas. We must realize that we gain nothing by deterring library users, and we will only reap the benefits of libraries when we remove the punishments preventing us from checking out books. When we eliminate library book fines, we will foster universal respect for knowledge, encouraging and ultimately supporting the use of public services.
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Neal Krishna is a contributor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.