Fall 2018 Newsletter – Feature

Enhancing Patron Satisfaction with Auto-Renewals and Eliminating Fines

Increasing library patron satisfaction and eliminating barriers to entry for customers have been hot topics among librarians for years. Forward-thinking librarians are adapting to the ever-changing demands of their patrons with technology advancements, makers’ labs, and relevant programming. Another trend gaining momentum is the auto-renewal of materials.

Auto-renewing materials extends flexibility to busy patrons. Libraries can define the circulation rules so items with reserves on them or items checked out to blocked patrons will not be auto-renewed. Additionally, the auto-renewals of materials can alleviate some of the workload on staff to collect and enforce overdue fines as well as reduce the adversarial relationship with patrons. On the downside, auto-renewals do tend to keep items off the shelf longer, impacting browsing discovery. Furthermore, auto-renewals can reduce fine revenue due to fewer overdue items.

Anna Lane, Director of the Marshall Public Library, recently started using her ILS’ auto-renewal feature and reported that it is making fines almost obsolete. “So many patrons who call to extend their books or sheepishly tell us their library materials are a day or two late are surprised, and then elated, to find out their items automatically renewed with no fine assessed. Many of our storytime parents who are notoriously late returning books—and usually have stacks of books per kid—were ecstatic (and still are) to learn their books, CDs, and DVDs are automatically renewed. Particularly with our heftier DVD fine, the auto-renewal feature has saved our families quite a bit of money.”

A handful of libraries take the extra step and eliminate fines altogether. Many found the money accrued from fines made up a very small percentage of their actual budget. The goodwill gained from patrons made up for any lost fine revenue. The Pflugerville Public Library did away with overdue fines in 2012. Jennifer Coffey, Library Director stated, “We really didn’t get that much from fines. Those with small fines paid them, but they were so small that it didn’t make any impact. Those who owed a LOT for late returns tended not to pay anyway.”

Georgetown Public Library has even reported seeing an increase in donations from patrons when they learn the library has eliminated fines. Sally Miculek, Georgetown Public Library’s Assistant Director stated that eliminating fines “reinforces our trust with our patrons, and allows us to focus on continuing to eliminate barriers to library use. Also, we have numerous patrons who face mobility challenges of one kind or another, and removing fines allows those folks to feel safe to borrow materials and know that if they occasionally have to bring something back a few days late because they lack transportation to get to the library, there will be no repercussion.”

While a number of libraries have stopped charging fines, there are still consequences for not returning materials such as limiting the ability to check out additional materials, use public computers, or reserve meeting rooms. Coffey mentioned, “If an item is damaged beyond use or never returned, we charge the account. The only consequence is the account is blocked until paid.”

Finally, it must be noted there is a potential drawback to auto-renewals. An Apollo customer recently received feedback from a state library representative that their funding could be in jeopardy if they reported auto-renewals as part of total circulation since part of the funding is based on circulation totals. The use of auto-renewals can artificially inflate circulation numbers. If these reports are not framed within the context of auto-renewal practices, the reporting could be misinterpreted as fraudulent. Understanding the potential impact and addressing it openly with funding sources is recommended before any changes are made to avoid jeopardizing public funding.

Implementing auto-renewals and eliminating fines make great strides in building patron goodwill and alleviating stress for patrons and library staff. While many libraries still rely on some revenue from fines, a trend towards auto-renewals will decrease the dependence on fine revenue. Therefore, it will become increasingly easier to eliminate fines altogether.

Do you have some thoughts on auto-renewals or eliminating fines? We’d love to hear them for a possible follow-up article.