Library book fines to be scrapped in a bid to halt dwindling lending service in Barnsley

Fines for overdue library books look set to be scrapped in Barnsley as the council wrestles with a plunge in the number of lenders in the last six years.

By Paul Whitehouse
Tuesday, 21 May, 2019, 10:19
Looking fine: Borrowers will not face charges at Barnsley's new Lightbox library

Books loaned from the town’s network of libraries are down by almost a third since the 2012/13 year and it is believed the scrapping the fines could help to encourage more people back to the service.

Although fines are only ten pence per day, up to a maximum of £5.20, it is believed some people find themselves in a position where they fail to return books because they cannot afford the fine.

Fines have not been increased for many years, due to a recognition from the council that “an increase in the fine rate will undoubtedly have a further negative impact on the use of our libraries”.

According to a report to be considered by Barnsley Council’s ruling Cabinet next week, fines are no longer regarded as a “successful deterrent”.

As numbers of books loaned out has declined, so has income from fines, down from £14,200 to £11,500 in the space of two years and it is argued the impact of absorbing that sum into existing library finances would be outweighed by the benefits of encouraging more use of the service.

The report states: “Customers often keep the book as they can no longer afford the fine which means the Service and other customers lose access to that stock, with an additional cost to replace the item. There is also a perpetual cycle of losing existing customers as their membership is suspended when the amount owing exceeds £5.”

That causes further problems because those without library membership cannot use the computers now in place at branches, creating “a further barrier to the council’s channel shift ambition.”

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“Customers without their own internet access are more likely to be from deprived communities. If they no longer use the library due to fines they are less likely to visit or change the way they access council services.

“Similarly fines are a barrier to encouraging new customers to use the library, especially those on low incomes, older people and socially isolated who benefit not only from access to the books but also from using the library as a community hub, attending groups and activities and generally meeting people.

“Fines can therefore limit the potential of libraries to support communities,” states the report.

The plan is to use email reminders to warn people their books are due for return and “staff intervention” would be an option to deal with those who had failed to return items, before they were allowed to borrow again.

If adopted, the change will take place on July 1, meaning fines will never apply to those using the new Lightbox library, due to open in the town centre that month.

The council is also proposing to scrap its charges for reserving books. At present there is no charge for obtaining a book from stock at the central library as they are kept on site, with small charges from branch libraries.

Books not on display will not be stored at the Lightbox, so rather than introduce a charge there, the proposal is to remove them across the service.