21 December 2020
Image credit: Oregon Public Library.

Oregon Public Library went fine free in January 2020. It seems like many moons ago, however, this philosophy change is still making its impact. As an organization, we decided that going fine free was an important change to make. Unfortunately, Oregon has not always had the best perception among community members and we are on a path to change that. Therefore it seemed like an extremely important step to make to have patrons feel welcome. We all know how it feels when we are told we have a fine and unfortunately many patrons feel a sense of shame. As an organization that runs on community involvement, we didn’t want them to have negative experiences. In line with ALA’s resolution passed in 2019, fines can create an economic barrier to patrons and we wanted to make sure we were providing access to all.

For Oregon, we found that about 34% of our patrons had fines that totaled about $13,000. When we looked at this further 17% of these patrons could not check out because their fines were too high. We decided that we were not going to recoup that money and that a positive perception that a fine free philosophy would have is worth a lot more.

If you are interested in going fine free just start the discussion! Everyone is going to need to buy in, including the library staff and board. This was a key part of changing a culture and I recommend that you do your research and have examples on other libraries that have gone fine-free. I found that the data from my library was impactful, but having examples on either side of the discussion is also extremely beneficial when looking at the implications of this type of change for your organization.

If your library does go fine free the next step is to promote to the public! To publicize this big change the right way, make sure everyone is on the same page when implementing to avoid confusion for patrons. This is something that we wanted to run a lot of promotion with, but within three months our COVID-19 shutdown began. This was an unfortunate turn because the initial impact as a philosophy change unrelated to COVID0-19 was lost. Overall, our patrons have been very appreciative and thankful when they find out we are fine free. We have had a huge increase in library cards and hope that we are promoting more access to all. Despite the year that 2020 has been, our fine free philosophy has been a great success for Oregon.

Our guest blogger today is Hilaree Lombardo. Hilaree is the Library Director at the Oregon Public Library District. Hilaree is also a member of the My Library Is... Advisory Team.



Our system has been fine-free

Our system has been fine-free since the beginning of November.  We have had a few bumps in the transition.  The biggest hurdle we have faced are patrons who return materials late.  The materials sit in quarantine and occasionally the patron ends up being blocked because an item has crossed the line from "overdue" to "lost/missing," and their accounts are being billed for replacement.  

We are trying to "train" our patrons to renew items rather than just let them be overdue.  Hopefully, as our patrons adjust to the new policies, this problem will go away!