Tag Archives: library

Are “Fine Free” Public Libraries Really Better For the City of St Paul?

Up until the new year I was a fine-paying public library patron, as many people in St Paul were.  I paid my fines, it was painful, it didn’t seem fair, but I paid them. This was the case up until recently when St Paul Public Libraries went “fine free”.  The fines I paid over the years happened because had I forgotten or I didn’t have the time to turn in materials. Each time I thought: next time, I would remember to bring my materials in before they were overdue, given the opportunity.  I would change for the better from this lesson. However, there won’t be next time in St Paul, these fine events are something many people will no longer experience. And in being unable to accrue library fines in St Paul, I found out that lack of in-depth research and hopeful positive intentions are perhaps why it is that way.  Let me share with you some research on the topic and you decide on fines or no fines at the public library, what you learn through data from fines studies may surprise you, I was certainly surprised.

The St Paul Public Library’s “Fine Free” webpage asks the question: Why go fine free?”  and they answer: “It’s good for our community. Our community is stronger and healthier when people have access to the programs, services, and materials they need to pursue their educational, career, family, and life goals. We hope this will encourage prior users to come back to the library and attract new users to experience our offerings.”  All of these hopes and aspirations may have good intentions, but does ending fines and fees at the public library help our community? Does it make our community stronger and healthier? Does it allow for more programs, services, and materials that patrons need to pursue their educational, career, and life goals?  Let’s look at a few studies and find out.

On the St Paul Public Library’s (SPPL) website (https://sppl.org/about-fine-free/) it states that: “Late fines are not effective. Studies have shown that small fines have no impact on return rates. According to “Removing Barriers to Access,” a Colorado State Library whitepaper: “The scant research on the impact of library fines and fees does not indicate a clear benefit to administering these polices and may be costly to enforce.”  This line is directly taken from “Removing Barriers to Access” research which is not a peer reviewed journal, which ironically, provides many references to prove the ineffectiveness of fines while providing zero references on the effectiveness of fines and fees, further suggesting there is more than “scant research” and perhaps exposing an information bias.  

Moreover, SPPL’s “Fine Free” webpage cites this single study on the effectiveness of fines and fees, but there has to be more to the story than “scant research”.  Simply suggesting with a broad generalization that there is a lack of research on library fines does not prove that those fines are ineffective–or effective, especially when citing only one study.  This study proves that one side of the argument might show a result happened in this single study or other case studies under certain conditions, based on other studies with the same opinion, but fail to mention any benefits of fines and fees.  Nothing to change policy on, more information is needed, right?

In an attempt to retrieve more information I found the study SPPL offers is only one of at least a few studies on the topic; each with a somewhat different conclusion, making any decision on eliminating fines premature.   

A study at The Journal of Librarianship (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.acalib.2013.08.011) shows the opposite may be true about eliminating fines: “The results indicate that fines indeed make a difference in patron book return behavior. Patrons who borrowed books under a fines policy returned books before due dates at a statistically significantly higher rate. As a result of this study, it is determined that a fines policy is an effective tool to ensure that books are returned on time and available to the maximum number of library users.”  The maximum number of library users sounds like a lot of people who would be positively impacted by fines and fees. This data being acknowledged, the debate over library fines is far from a conclusion.

Another interesting point related to financial resources is cited on SPPL’s website: “It’s fiscally responsible. Due to the rise in electronic materials (which do not accrue late fines) and other factors, fines are not a sustainable form of revenue for the library. Money collected from fines and fees has gone down steadily for the past 10 years.”, no source was cited with this information.  Yet, a study from Bowling Green State University, Fine Efficacy: An Experimental Study of the Effect of Daily Fines on Borrower Return Habits  (https://libguides.bgsu.edu/fine-research)  indicates that “eliminating fines caused a 33% decline in revenue generated, despite increasing reserve fines and billing fees to compensate for the loss of daily fine payments  They also saw a small increase in number of books that became overdue, even though loan periods had been extended.” This data is compelling considering modern libraries need all of the funding resources they can acquire to provide the valuable resources and services to our communities.

Now, I ask: to what end is SPPL eliminating fines and fees when there is counter-research that suggestsµ doing so could create a negative outcome?  To look good? Good intentions abound but there is lack of evidence that the practice of ending fines or making libraries “fine free” does anything to improve or expand the community readership, patron satisfaction, or even benefit those who no longer accrue fines at any income level.  What happens when patrons can no longer check out a book because it is drastically overdue or assumed lost, and that higher cost to cover a new book is not paid, what costs will the library incur to replace that material resource and have it sent out in a timely manner, if at all? These are some questions undiscussed, seemingly brushed over.  

When taking an assortment of library fines and fees studies into account, perhaps, it is safe to say that there is more research needed and necessary to responsibly change policy within public libraries, especially if it has the potential to decrease fiscal resources for library functions and increase the number of overdue books, essentially limiting those resources for fellow patrons.  Forgiving fines may remove a great lesson from our society, it may show that punctuality and holding to a plan, and having responsibility, is an outdated practice. But eliminating fines may prove beneficial, and create more access. Either way we must keep learning in order to understand the weight of decisions on such important institutions, both sides have plenty to check out.

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We cancelled our #Netflix because you can get most things for free at the #library

I wonder if people know they can get most things for free at the library, even an original series on Netflix… I told my colleague this just before lunch hour yesterday. He seemed surprised. Was I lying, was I crazy, could a person really do this? Ah, yes. To the latter that is. Here’s how I know. Before mentoring last week I was at the public library and saw on the hold shelf: Stranger Things (both seasons). SO, that was what did it for me. Yeah, I could be sad about not getting Netflix exclusives any more, but now I know I can get them at the public library for the cost of having a library card: free. This should be no surprise society, and it was a surprise to me. Again, you can get most things at the library for free if you know what you are looking for, how to ask for it, and who to ask. Everyone wants to help you. Do you want to save money and help yourself? Get it at the library.

Think and Save; How to Never Buy Textbooks Again.

Obviously this getting textbooks at the library thing isn’t some sort of secret raved-about genius way to save money on required course texts, but in some ways it is.

Let me express my sheer love for getting textbooks and other resources, digital and print, through the library systems briefly, so you can think about how you might do the same—and save money, save time, and save face.

When I started out as a CLA transfer student at the University of Minnesota, I had no idea how the library worked. I didn’t understand the importance of this resource—I had an idea, but it was vague, and that’s an understatement.

After being a student lead worker at St. Paul campus university libraries for 2 years, I have come to realize and utilize the advantages of the libraries (their branches), and the incentives that their lending service affords.

Perhaps you think: I can’t find a title, I won’t be able to get the required course materials, or I searched and that edition or exact title is not available.

Sure, you did one really impressive search (by your standards)… Well, try again. Remember: If you think you can, I know you will.

Maybe the library search engine you were perusing didn’t have it on the first try, or the first page; however, other catalogs may possess what you wish to attain.

Have your first try here: www.lib.umn.edu

A first try is good if you like not getting useful results, though a first try is a good start to something great…

So, try again.

Are you going to give up after one try and spend your hard-borrowed student loan money on things you don’t really care about/need, or are you going to search for 5 more minutes and find what you want for free?

It’s really all about your level of persistence, your level of creativity, and what you will do to attain what you desire: how bad do you want to be frugal and save? Use that thing inside your head, be like a thoughtful individual.

This year my level of wanting to save and be thrifty was high, so I found all of my books through inter-library loans, or other services provided by the library, and it took less than 10 minutes. This process took less time than it takes to send an email, or scroll through Instagram.

Last year my level was not so high. Last year I spent all sorts of what would have been beer or fun money on overpriced books which I did not read, and then at the end of the semester I sold them back at less than half price. I was lazy anyway. But, what a fucking racket. To my utter disdain I regret the decision to buy at the campus bookstore.

Mid-semester I did a quick search and found most of my textbooks here:
http://uborrow.relaisd2d.com/login.html

U Borrow is my favorite resource for any book, always. You can get new books, old books, rare books, from some great universities throughout the United States. The best part is they get delivered to whichever library you choose to pick them up at.

Everyone talks about half.com, or amazon.com, or other places where a student can buy books online and “save”. Sure… How about “save” by not purchasing top-dollar subpar products from places that drastically mark-up their selling price?

In most cases, a specific new edition book is no better than the old edition that you can obtain at a local used bookstore… Same author, same words, different year of printing and edited by different people, wow.

The new edition just has the backing of new people getting paid for rights—each year for a few extra words, for their titles and their names to adorn these improved editions. And this costs you more money, but you want to pay for it, right??? No.

Likewise, these publications and institutions are paying bucks for agency, authority, and placement, big names at pinnacle levels have their materials located in expensive bookstores.

The best, and easiest, marketing they do is by putting their product on your required texts next to your class schedule on the university website, the campus bookstore wouldn’t stock them otherwise—wouldn’t pull an immense profit off of their student body.

Each name of the editor, or publisher, or corporation (and their ideology, and what they sanction) within that book, you pay for. Your teacher, the bookstore, and the school, perhaps makes a commission on these required texts.

Think about it: Do they want you to get the newest edition of Shakespeare because it is of far superior quality, or because certain entities belong to an institution which pays for a mention, for cheap product at increased prices?

Obviate this silly scheme by getting all, or a majority of your materials through the library system. You already pay for it in student fees, and you may have the access you need at your fingertips.

When you buy from the bookstore you are paying for that bookstore’s existence: utilities, workers, facilities; moreover you pay for the interest of your professor and the university, in what they make from these institutions and agencies, from their publications, for their specific interests: profit.

Okay, breathe…

Now say you want to actually own the book, great. Great, you are an outlier on the verge of pariah! So what?

Get it at the library first—give it a try, and if you really enjoy what you’ve read—or you need it for personal use, then buy it.

I personally wouldn’t buy a car without test driving the vehicle first (or having someone else I trust test try it for me). So, why would you buy a textbook without assessing the quality first?

College is no longer affordable, any scholar with an inkling of responsibility will do anything to save money. One of those anythings is avoid the bookstore and utilize a service which is offered with no additional cost. Do it! Save yourself time and money in lines and in overpriced materials.

I’ll be honest, I’m partial to this concept because I work at a library. I love it. I am also partial because I enjoy saving money when necessary/possible. I’m smart.

I knew I needed a change when I bought the latest addition of Moby-Dick (Norton Edition, No. 9) at an incredible price ($23.00 +-), because the teacher expressed how we all needed it.

I thought on that for a moment: how much could they possibly alter or make critical improvements on this American classic? WTF?! Melville was rolling in his grave. I was completely baffled… Just think about that. I paid, and truly I paid.

I will leave you with this, the next time you think you need to get a book at the bookstore, count it out. Scratch that idea… Give it up and try something different, try a new search, give it one more minute on the browser—you can do anything. I believe in you.

Truly, get your books through a public or university library system, they are priceless and don’t carry a heavy price.