Unreturned Materials as Barriers to Access

With public libraries increasingly eliminating fines as a means of reducing barriers to library access, Milwaukee Public Library and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Information Studies dared to ask the most basic question: why don’t people return their books?

In the fall of 2016, more than 10,000 people in the City of Milwaukee, WI had their fines forgiven and their library privileges restored. Within 90 days, 8% of those individuals found themselves in the same position, with fines and fees blocking access. Would fine elimination solve this problem, or were other factors preventing materials from timely return?

Learn how the research team developed the methodology, executed the study, and what the surprising survey data revealed to help the team better understand the precipitating behavior.

Originally presented July 11, 2019.

Additional Resources

  • Slideshow (PDF, 47 pgs.)
    Includes the survey questions (slides 44–47).
  • Barnard, A., & Mcginty, J. C. (2007, December 25). How One Overdue Book Can Hurt a Credit Record. Retrieved January 30, 2018, from http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/26/nyregion/26debate.html
  • Bundy, A. (2012). In Australia's first national year of reading, another reason why library fines are not so fine. Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services, 25(2), 55–55.
  • DeFaveri, A. (2005). Breaking barriers: libraries and socially excluded communities. Information for Social Change, 21, 1–2.
  • Dixon, J. (2017). Doing fine(s)? Library Journal,142(6), 40–44.
  • Gillis, S. (2017). Can your library go fine-free? Library Journal,142(6), 41–41.
  • Heeger, P. (2007). Better late than never. School Library Journal, 53(2), 30–30.
  • Kohn, K. (2015). Fine (Free) and Dandy: Libraries Say Good-bye to Overdue Charges. ILA Reporter, 33(6), 18–21.
  • Mcmenemy, D. (2010). On library fines. Library Review, 59(2), 78–81. doi:10.1108/00242531011023835.
  • Milwaukee Public Library, & Public Policy Forum. (1988). Milwaukee Public Library : Study of potential for user charges and fee based services. Milwaukee, Wis.]: [Milwaukee Public Library].
  • State Library of Ohio (2019). Ohio Public Library Statistics: Operating Revenue | Indicator: Fines/ Fees Earnings, 2013. Data Planet™ Statistical Datasets: A SAGE Publishing Resource. (Dataset). Dataset-ID: 078-001-006
  • Pogash, C. (2016, March 30). In San Jose, Poor Find Doors to Library Closed. Retrieved January 30, 2018, from https://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/31/us/in-san-jose-poor-find-doors-to-library-closed.html
  • Sifton, D. J. (2009). The Last Taboo: Abolishing Library Fines. Partnership: The Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research, 4(1), 1–4. doi:10.21083/partnership.v4i1.935
  • Su, Q. (2014). To Fine or Not to Fine: Evaluation of Overdue Policy at Nunavat Public Library Services. [Master’s thesis]. University of Victoria, Canada.
  • To Fine or Not to Fine. (1999). American Libraries, 30(8), 75–78.
  • Tourangeau, R., Rips, L.J., and Rasinski, K. (2000) The Psychology of Survey Response. Cambridge University Press.

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