The Vancouver Island Regional Library’s decision to eliminate overdue fines is as much a win for relevance as for literacy.
This month, the library system made a change it piloted in 2021 permanent by removing overdue fines. Executive director Ben Hyman said the move was made to remove the punitive aspect of borrowing items. As a result, some people could not read, watch or listen to the items.
The pilot project found that two-thirds of borrowed items are returned within the three-week loan period, and 98 percent of items are returned “at some point.” Libraries in the VIRL system will still invoice someone for the replacement cost of an item if it hasn’t been returned within four months, which seems fair.
The idea of halting overdue fines took hold when libraries had to close their doors like other businesses during the novel coronavirus pandemic. They quickly found ways to continue offering service to their customers with contactless pickups and drop-offs. Communication with their clients via social media improved.
The COVID-19 pause allowed library staff to examine their delivery systems and see how they could better serve their clientele. While Vancouver Island libraries aren’t quite as progressive as, say, the Anaheim, California Public Library, which offers library books via a vending machine in the train station at Anaheim Transportation Intermodal Center, they are still relevant.
Materials available at Vancouver Island libraries are still indicative of what people are looking for, and they are changing with the times. There are 750,000 physical items in the VIRL collection, and the digital reach is even further.
As an example, the VIRL provides e-books through an app: easily accessible with a library card, free and renewable.
Libraries are challenging readers in new ways to stay connected. Summer reading programs for children expanded to similar programs for adults and are now continuing in the winter as people embrace the Norwegian practice of hygge – slowing down and enjoying life’s simple pleasures.
While libraries are ideal for people’s private amusement or learning, they also offer a lifeline to a city’s marginalized population. Computers are available for free, whether to keep in touch with people via email, schoolwork, or employment.
A library is the only place in town where you don’t have to spend money to be there.
The VIRL recently completed public engagement for its next phase of strategic planning, and we are eager to see what direction the institution will go in the future.
Libraries remain an integral part of Vancouver Island communities. If you haven’t visited one lately, we encourage you to drop by and see all your neighbourhood library offers.