Elimination of Children’s Fines - FAQ

 

Why did TPL decide to remove fines from children’s library cards?

Libraries remove barriers and open doors. There is growing evidence that overdue fines do not encourage the return of material as intended and may actually act as a barrier to the use of all library services. Our data indicates the disproportionate impact late fines have on racialized and low-income communities in the city, some of the people that need TPL services the most. Particularly in today’s challenging times, we need to remove barriers and connect children to the information and resources they need – for school, for lifelong learning, for culture and entertainment.

With this announcement, TPL joins hundreds of library systems across North America in the growing movement of eliminating overdue fines. In Canada alone, there are 189 fines-free library systems, including 27 in Ontario and nine in the GTA, and these numbers are increasing.

What data to you have to support the disproportionate impact that fines have on high priority communities?

People from racialized, low-income communities are blocked from library use because of overdue fines at a higher rate than others. A total of 5% of children from these Toronto communities have blocked TPL library cards compared to 1% of children from other areas. Just the fear of incurring fines may stop people from borrowing library materials.

Will TPL waive existing fines on children’s library cards?

We will remove any outstanding overdue fines on children’s cards when we implement this initiative once our branches are fully reopened.

How many customers will have their record cleared?

We estimate that approximately 33,000 children’s cards will have their record cleared of fines.

Why don’t you waive those overdue fines now, as opposed to waiting until branches are reopened?

We are currently not charging fines on any materials until library branches reopen. No accounts are blocked due to overdue fines at this time. Children can continue to borrow materials even if they have overdue fines – they are not blocked. We put these measures in place to not disadvantage our customers as a result of the pandemic. Also, we need to plan, implement and schedule the removal of children’s fines in our customer database. This process will take some time to ensure we effectively manage the fines removals from their cards.

Will you still ask children to return items according to the current borrowing schedule?

Yes, we ask that people follow our current borrowing periods and renewal options, generally ranging from 7 to 21 days depending on the type of item borrowed.

Research by the American Library Association suggests there’s little evidence to support the idea that fines encourage the prompt return of materials as intended. In fact, libraries that eliminated fines report the same or an increased return rate for materials.

Hasn’t TPL stopped charging fines on all materials?

We are currently not charging fines on any materials during the pandemic, but children’s fines will be permanently phased out.

Lost Items 

Are you also eliminating fines for lost items?

Library customers will still be responsible for returning materials. We’ll continue to enforce replacement costs for lost materials, either reported lost by the customer or designated by TPL as long overdue.

Will you waive existing fines and replacement charges for lost or unreturned items?

While we’re not waiving fines on lost or unreturned items, we encourage people to talk to us about their individual situations. We don’t want these charges to stop their library use.

Accountability for Returning Library Materials 

Isn’t there something to be said about teaching children responsibility and accountability for their actions with overdue fines?

We will continue to encourage children and their parents or caregivers to return their library materials on time, so that everyone can have easy and timely access to our collections.

Libraries remove barriers and open doors. Research by the American Library Association suggests there’s little evidence to support the idea that fines encourage the prompt return of materials as intended. In fact, libraries that eliminated fines report the same or an increased return rate for materials. Some customers don’t know that fines are capped and are afraid to return long-overdue items. This disproportionately impacts vulnerable communities such as newcomers and low-income residents. We will continue to ask that people follow our current borrowing periods and renewal options, generally ranging from 7 to 21 days depending on the type of item borrowed.

Will eliminating fines discourage people from returning library materials?

We don’t expect so. Research by the American Library Association suggests there’s little evidence to support the idea that fines encourage the prompt return of materials as intended. In fact, libraries that eliminated fines report the same or an increased return rate for materials. Some customers don’t know that fines are capped and are afraid to return long-overdue items.

Library customers will still be responsible for returning materials, and those who do not will still need to pay the replacement cost for any materials lost, damaged or not returned.

Unsurprisingly, another research finding is that eliminating fines increases use, encourages membership renewals and attracts new customers.

Teen and Adult Fines 

When will TPL eliminate teen and adult overdue fines?

We plan to phase out fines for teens and adults, and this will be included as a budget enhancement request in our 2022 budget submission to the City.

The Toronto Public Library Foundation will be actively fundraising once again to help make this happen. Support from donors who are committed to investing in our City, coupled with City of Toronto funding, is making it possible to break down these barriers to library access sooner and faster.

Budget

How much will it cost to eliminate children’s fines?

Eliminating children’s fines in 2021 will decrease TPL revenue by an estimated $600,000, or less than 0.5% of the TPL annual operating budget. In addition to City of Toronto funding, the Toronto Public Library Foundation successfully raised funds thanks to Friends of Toronto Public Library, South Chapter, The Haynes-Connell Foundation and other generous donors who made the elimination of children’s overdue fines possible.

It’s important to note that fines aren’t a significant source of revenue for TPL. Like all libraries, we’re experiencing a natural decline in fines revenue due to increased use of digital materials, which don’t incur overdue fines, and with the introduction of more online tools to help people manage their borrowing (e.g. email notification, online account management). TPL fines revenue dropped 22% from 2015 to 2019.

How could TPL afford to eliminate adult and teen fines?

We anticipate the total cost would be $1.4 million dollars, or well under 1% of our annual operating budget. Like all libraries, we’re experiencing a decline in fines revenue due to increased use of digital materials, which don’t incur overdue fines, and with the introduction of more online tools to help people manage their borrowing (e.g. email notification, online account management). TPL fines revenue dropped 22% from 2015 to 2019.

We will include the request to eliminate adult and teen fines in our 2022 operating budget submission to the City. The Toronto Public Library Foundation is also looking to support this request through fundraising efforts, as it did with children’s fines.

How much would it cost to eliminate adult and teen fines?

We anticipate the total cost would be $1.4 million dollars, or well under 1% of our annual operating budget. We will include the request to eliminate adult and teen fines in our 2022 operating budget submission to the City, and this will also be a priority for 2021 fundraising.

Why is Foundation support necessary?

Despite the fact that TPL’s revenues from fines is declining, it still creates a pressure to fully eliminate this revenue from our budget. Support from donors who are committed to investing in our City reduces the budget pressure and spreads it out over two years, making it possible to break down barriers to library access sooner and faster.