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On April 1, 2022, Brighton and Hove City Council passed an amendment which saw the removal of library fines for children under 16 for overdue books, and an increase to adult library fines from 25p to 30p.  

This move was brough to the budget council by Councilor Nicholas Childs who said: “It is felt that any fines act to impede access to books. This is especially so for children from deprived homes.  

The evidence from a recent initiative in Los Angeles has confirmed that removal of fines has indeed led to an increase in use and borrowing including in poorer areas of the city.” 

With the cost of living steadily increasing, this should be seen as a welcome change for many families by removing a barrier to children’s access to books. 

Ian Anstice, a librarian who runs Public Libraries News, said that the amendment from Brighton council: “Moves in the right direction with removing children’s library fines. 

“They [fines] don’t have any impact on returns of books, but they have a disproportional impact on peoples of low income.” 

He added that: “The more normal story at the moment is removal of all fines for 20 services in the country now, probably more like over 30, which don’t have fines at all for adults, senior citizens or for children.” 

According to Public Libraries News there are now 38 library services in the UK that have gone fine free. In addition, a BBC report found that Trafford Borough Council saw 7000 additional items borrowed and a “4% rise in people joining compared to the previous year” after they removed library fines in April 2018. 

Despite this, library services still have barriers preventing them from removing fines, one being the income that it generates for their services.  

This is the case for Brighton & Hove where Councillor Childs said that adult fines would not be removed because: “Adults, unlike children, are responsible for themselves whereas children are not mature to make informed decisions in the same way. The loss of income would also be much more significant.” 

Childs said that in Brighton & Hove the libraries make around £27,500 per annum. The loss from children’s fines being scrapped has been obtained from a general council tax increase and increased charges for services such as parking, use of council facilities and ground rent, along with the increase to adults’ fines. 

Anstice said: “fines are basically income for library services, and they are seen as part of their budget each year.  

“If people don’t pay their fines, if people don’t return their books, library budgets suffer.” 

However, the money obtained by library fines is falling, calling into question the whole funding model of fines.  

Philip Cooke is the Citywide Services Manager for Libraries, Galleries and Culture for Manchester City Council. In Manchester, they abolished fines for all people on April 1 and had not issued fines for children for many years. He said: “The level of fund money that we get from fines has been reducing year on year. 

“It is because a lot of the borrowing is eBooks now, so you do not get any fines off those eBooks. 

“We are making our service so much easier to renew books than we used to so as well as renewing in person people can renew over the telephone and the most common way of renewing is online so people can do that 24/7. 

“Because we are enabling people to renew their books, each year there are less fines in the system, which is great because very few services actually see fine income as something you want to receive. It is not like you have an income target.” 

This was also seen in a survey conducted by Libraries Connected, a charity organisation dedicated to advocating the power of libraries and their importance in the community. Helen Drakard works for Libraries Connected and explained some of the monetary benefits libraries which had removed fines saw. 

Drakard said: “Some had just absorbed it within their library budgets and made savings in other areas.  

“Some of them removed the self-service kiosks’ payment facility because they weren’t charging fines, so they no longer needed to pay for that extra [IT] service.” 

“One found that they’d actually saved around £10,000 just on staff costs from not having fines.” 

“And the income from fines had just been dropping every year anyway. It was tailing off so it seemed like eventually it would be so small it was not worth the effort.” 

There may be a future where Brighton & Hove City Council do abolish all fines, but for now the move is a step in the right direction. “You want to make sure that children reading is the absolute priority of the library service” said Cooke, and that is what Brighton & Hove have done. 

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