How to Transition to Fine Free
Your library has decided to go to fine free. Now what?
The decision to go fine free takes a lot of thinking and debating, it can be very taxing on a library. Once you decide that it is the way forward, the work is far from over. Here is a quick step-by-step guide in how to make the transition as smooth as possible for your library.
Consider the impact that going fine free will have on your budget, but do not forget to count how staff time will be affected. Some libraries have found that the revenue generated from fines is far less than the cost of staff time billing and negotiating fines and receiving the fees, you should know if this will be the case for your library too.
Remember your library’s mission and establish goals that reflect these. What are you trying to achieve exactly? Sign up more patrons? Unblock a specified amount or percentage of patrons? Increase circulation? You may have a number of things you are trying to achieve.
When conveying your message to staff and stakeholders, be sure to address the need to get your library items back. It’s important to communicate the reason or reasons that the decisions were made to go fine free. Do you have a material recovery system in place? Just because you are going fine free doesn’t mean that all your materials will automatically be returned.
Get the Word Out
Going fine free is a great opportunity for publicity for your library, so make sure not to waste it. Having a good media list that is ready to go means that a single email to local outlets will yield interest from reporters.
Once the calls, emails, and media visits come in the message should stay the same throughout the branch and library system. You will be speaking to your current patrons as well as potential patrons through the reporter as a conduit, so highlighting what fine free means for them should be at the forefront. Ask a prominent member of the community (mayor, council member, or a Friend of the Library) to write an op-ed in the local paper that addresses the primary concerns. (e.g. the myth that the library is there to teach personal responsibility).The more forms of media that you can spread your message to, the better.
While media exposure is a great way to cast a wide net and draw in new patrons, it is equally important to make sure your existing patron base knows about the change to your library. Creating a FAQ page on your website is important for a permanent resource. Make it personal, be sure to include staff and patron photos and quotes. Using a notification system that can easily send emails and texts from one dashboard will minimize the amount of time it takes to relay the message, while maximizing the effect of the message.
Services like MessageBee make it drag-and-drop easy to design emails and SMS messages, with completely customizable templates. Your library can be a simple interactive email away from notifying your entire patron base of the fine free change, and letting them know how to move forward, should they have a balance on their account.
Resolve Account balances and Unblocking Patrons
Fines are history
The next step to consider is how to resolve accounts with a balance. Since your library has made the decision to go fine free, it stands to reason that existing fines are not of the primary concern for your library. You can easily forgive and resolve the fines, but getting the materials back is still an important part of maintaining the patron-library relationship.
Getting the materials back
An amnesty period is the most popular way to get books back onto the shelves. Take a day, a week, however long and allow patrons to return books without penalty. Letting patrons know about an amnesty period should also be an important part of communicating your implementation plan to local media and your existing patron base, too. The amnesty period can be tied into other library promotions such as National Library Week or Read Across America Day.
Although the elimination of fines has been shown to increase the rate in which books are returned on time, there are still some patrons that neglect to return their books. Deploying strategies like reminder notifications and automatic renewals can help point patrons in the right direction, but it may not be the right approach for some libraries. Our Gentle Nudge® service can nudge tardy patrons in the right direction, while reminding the patron that fines are no longer collected.
Reflect on How it Went
The important part of any plan is measuring success and reflection. This can happen in stages and can vary from library to library. Fairly soon after implementation of your new fine free policy you can see if more books are being checked out and if more people are using the library. What went well? What comments have you gotten from patrons? What needs to be improved? These are some things to think about.
Track some information for example: physical items borrowed by formerly-blocked accounts, the increase in active library users, the average wait times for materials, and of course circulation.
Further down the line, looking at things like new patrons and unblocked patrons at the 3-, 6-, 9-, and 12-month marks can give you a picture of the success of your new policy. Of course, you will need to compare to your established goals from before the transition. Relaying these numbers, particularly in graphic form to your library’s board is also an important step in accountability.
Going fine free isn’t something that just happens once and then you forget about it. Fine free is a fundamental change in the day-to-day of the operation of your library, and your staff and library should reflect that. The move to fine free is a big one, and it sets up your new and existing patrons for a lifetime of reading and learning.