November 14, 2013 - 12:45am

A move to make the library user experience at Vancouver Island University (VIU) more friendly and less punitive has been hailed a success a year after library fines were eliminated.

A team of staff and faculty at VIU began working in spring 2012 on an initiative to eliminate most late fines and extend more generous borrowing and renewal limits for books, journals, articles, CDs and videos. The move to implement the new policy and forgive all outstanding fines was quietly launched at the start of the fall term in September 2012.

“Our role is to facilitate access to all library materials and ensure that everyone gets a crack at what they need to the greatest extent possible,” says Jean Blackburn, collections and user experience coordinator at the VIU Library.

Blackburn and Dan Sifton, coordinator of technical services and library automation, collected an award in May 2013 that recognized efforts at VIU to improve library services. The Academic Librarians in Public Service Award for Outstanding Service recognized the “innovative thinking” behind the library staff’s initiative to remove fines and implement more generous borrowing policies.

“It was surprising to me how unusual it was to make this kind of change,” says Blackburn, noting that fining for overdue materials, and the punitive language that library users face when exceeding lending limits, have been part of library culture for a long time.

“We did not want users to have a bad feeling about the library, and avoid coming in because they thought somebody would get on their case about late fines,” Blackburn says. “One of the first changes we made was to stop using language like ‘failed’ and ‘delinquent’.”

VIU students, staff and community users still receive notification if materials become overdue, with bills sent out for replacement cost of long overdue items after multiple friendly reminders. Fines are still levied on overdue items from inter-library loans, and on reserved course materials that are critical for timely student access. After regularly loaned items are overdue more than 25 days, students’ access to their library accounts, including online access, is blocked.

“As long as they bring the item back, the bill goes away,” Blackburn says.

While questions from staff at other libraries have centered on how to get materials back without fining, that has not been the issue at VIU.

In fact, the number of overdue items has been cut in half – from 30 per cent of total collection at the time fines were removed to 15 per cent when monitored a year later.

The extension of lending periods for just about everything in the library’s physical collection has also had positive feedback. For example, students can now borrow books and other print material for four weeks, with 12 more weeks in renewals. Video and CD loans for all user groups were also given a generous extension; for example, videos previously went out on one-day loans, and can now be borrowed for two weeks.

Changes to both fining policies and borrowing limits come at a time of rapid change for all libraries, says Blackburn.

Circulation of physical materials at VIU has decreased, while use of electronic materials has increased dramatically. Currently, VIU’s library has approximately 180,000 pieces in the physical collection, while users have access to more than 500,000 pieces in its electronic collection.

With the decrease in circulation of the physical collection, VIU’s library was also seeing fine revenue decline to about $20,000 a year. This was all the more reason, Blackburn says, to learn to live without fines levied primarily on students, most of whom don’t have much cash to spare.

“We felt that it wasn’t appropriate to depend on revenue generated from financial penalties on a resource that we believe the students own.”



Shari Bishop Bowes, Communications Officer, Vancouver Island University

P:250.740.6443 C: 250.618.1535 E: T: @viunews

Tags: In the Community

Sign up for our VIU news and experts email