Putting a Sacred Cow Out to Pasture:
Assessing the Effects of Removing Fines
& Reducing Barriers at an Academic Library
Je...
CC Photo by Flickr user Simon M Turner

Background
Methods
Results
Conclusions
What Did We
Change?
Fines

CC Photo by Flickr user Larisa Lazdins

Collections

Borrowing
Times/Limits
Why Did We Do It?

CC Photo by Flickr user DoBeRaGi
Circulation
$$
1997 - 2012
$$
2010 - 2012
Evidence

ILS Data

User Feedback
(Email & LibQUAL)
Staff Interviews
Staff Calendars
CC Photo by Flickr user ºNit Soto
Question 1: Increase in overdues?

CC Photo by Flickr user newmexico51
% of Circulating Items Overdue
June 2012

June 2013
Caution!
Archive your ILS data!

CC Photo by Flickr user Latente
Question 2: Students ‘sitting on’ books?
Renewals as a % of Circulation
Question 3: What do users think?
Good email! I rushed right over to borrow a
book
[In my Library Record] there is a column that says, ‘”As of
now, you owe”...
Feedback from users:
LibQUAL 2013
…I do also appreciate your recent policy changes
regarding fines, etc. I find that they ...
Question 4: What do staff think?

CC Photo by Flickr user Duke Yearlook
Circulation Staff Reactions:
Changes to Fines
It feels really good not to have to
charge people fines, and the relief
on t...
Circulation Staff Reflections:
Changes to Loans
Video loans being longer made faculty
happy.
It really feels good not to b...
Circulation Staff Reflections:
Interactions with Users
Having been little mini
policemen all our lives at the
circulation ...
Circulation Staff Reflections:
Other Comments
I think this idea has traction.  I just think
circ staff all over the countr...
Conclusions

CC Photo by Flickr user James Laing

Cows are better suited to pastures than libraries.
Jean Blackburn
Collections & User Experience Coordinator
jean.blackburn@viu.ca

CC Photo by Flickr user Miss Jo

Kathleen ...
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Putting a Sacred Cow Out to Pasture: Assessing the Effect of Removing Fines and Reducing Barriers at an Academic Library

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Presented at the Evidence-Based Library and Information Practice 7 Conference in July, 2013 in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.


Objective

At the beginning of the 2012-13 academic year, Vancouver Island University library eliminated most fines, forgave all past overdue fines, eliminated in-library use restrictions, and increased loans periods. The main drivers of these policy changes were a desire to reduce barriers to accessing library materials and remove most financially punitive loan policies, coupled with a continued downward trend in the circulation of our physical circulation and revenue. This study explores the perceived and actual effects of reducing barriers at VIU library.


Methods

Both qualitative and quantitative methods were used to measure the effect of policy changes. Statistical analysis of ILS data was used to explore physical circulation and overdue fine patterns. Qualitative feedback was collected via emails sent in reaction to a campus-wide policy change update, and via LibQUAL+ 2012 comments. Interviews with service desk staff illuminated the perceived impact of policy changes

Results

Students, library staff, and faculty were overwhelmingly positive about the changes. Staff are no longer put in an awkward enforcement role, which has fundamentally altered their interactions with library users. Many library employees believe that these policy changes have had a significant effect on borrowing trends, but statistics prove do not bear this feeling out. There has been little change in borrowing and overdue trends. At first, there was some initial faculty worry that this policy change might make it difficult to access particular books that other users had checked out in a timely fashion. This situation has not materialized.


Conclusion

In an era of declining physical circulation and users that increasingly expect free information, it no longer makes sense for VIU to have restrictive physical borrowing policies in place. By removing most fines and changing policies to reduce restrictions, the library sacrificed a small revenue stream for significant goodwill among our user base.

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  • Fines, Collections (periodicals circulate, reference resources integrated into stacks), Borrowing times/limits (3 weeks to 4, no limit on CDs)
  • Declining use of physical resources, accompanied by surging use of e-resources
    sense of resource not being used – how to get this material into users' hands?
    Hadn’t reviewed loan periods in almost 10 years
    hypothesized that fines accumulation is an indicator that loan periods not long enough
    Purpose of fines to encourage users to bring the books back – but evidence is increasingly that other users don't want them!
    Increasing disconnect between younger students and physical materials
    we try so hard to convince them of the value of our print collection, then fine them when they keep them out!
    Was the prospect of losing the revenue worrying? Of course. But revenue was not the purpose of fines – the goal was to get the materials back. And for years of flat or cut budgets we’d been doing a lot of proactive cost trimming, looking at supplies, maintenance contracts, everything that wasn’t giving us good value, to enable us to take advantage of transformative opportunities. So we were able to do this.
    From a practical point of view, idea that fine revenue declining so will have to learn to live without it, lets get out now and get some good will. Also, we estimated that we were spending $40K - $60K of staff time to manage fines (tracking, phone calls, arguments, appeals) that had plateaued at $20K in 2010-2011
    LibQual 2012 – a few comments on fines (too high, wanting to pay online), but lots on loans (non-circ items, distance students)
    feedback from staff prior to changes - users/staff conflict, abitrary resolution, forgiveness ad hoc, plead your case.
    We were integrating non-circulating and circulating collections (Ref and Per), and letting more materials circulate
  • Chart showing all fines in the ILS from 1997-before our purge in august of 2012 (late 90s)
    look like a large amount, but much of this irretrievable and not much more than number to huff and puff about
    assuming you could locate students from a decade ago, how do they respond, how much to you pay in staff time, (or a collection agency) to chase this?
  • fines & bills accrued between September 1 2010 and August 2012.
    notice the 116K is now just 15K overdues (2 yrs)
    This isn’t real money – it’s an idea. It’s our idea of what we’re owed. And it represents a systemic disconnect – or even conflict – with our users, because it also represents what our users don’t feel they owe us.
    Once we did the philosophical work and let go of that sense of entitlement, it felt great to let those fines and bills go. The day we wiped all financial penalties off the system, we went around with smiles on our faces even though no one outside the library staff knew about it. It felt like we had laid down a burden.
  • No.
    Snapshots of total percent of overdue items before and after changes.
    We have longer loan periods, but were not seeing an increase in overdues in our non fine environment.
  • Are students checking out a pile of books and using them all term instead of doing new searches for new assignments?
  • It’s not a trend.
    Before we started, we estimated that renewals would drop in the range of 1/3 to 1/2 of all circ. This is due to longer loan times.
  • Sent email to VIU employees – immediately got good feedback (as you might expect), most of which were focused on fines.
    Otherwise, fairly soft launch – posted on twitter and FB, but didn’t actively promote to students.
    Also had a few concerns about important/rare/expensive resources not being adequately protected/controlled – not around fines but rather previously non-circulating items now circulating. Solved these concerns with reserves.
  • Only 2 comments! But overall improvement in Affect of Service scores
    Richest source of qualitative data came from our circ staff
  • “punishment” comment – we will always get that user who’s a piece of work, but they are the minority. It makes sense to structure policies around the majority, not the delinquent minority.
  • Increasing loan periods was overdue
  • Reconsider reserve fines!
    Good point about experience at access institutions, sins of your youth
    “Arc” comment nice
  • The sacred cow of fines is much better suited to be in a pasture than in the library. There’s been a big improvement in goodwill between library staff and users. Staff time is saved by not having to argue about fines, and track down ones that we probably would never see anyway. It’s created a culture of questioning basic assumptions about how we do things, and about centering the needs of our users. Fears have not been born out.
  • Putting a Sacred Cow Out to Pasture: Assessing the Effect of Removing Fines and Reducing Barriers at an Academic Library

    1. 1. Putting a Sacred Cow Out to Pasture: Assessing the Effects of Removing Fines & Reducing Barriers at an Academic Library Jean Blackburn, Kathleen Reed, Dan Sifton Vancouver Island University @kathleenreed CC Photo by Flickr user RaGardiner4
    2. 2. CC Photo by Flickr user Simon M Turner Background Methods Results Conclusions
    3. 3. What Did We Change? Fines CC Photo by Flickr user Larisa Lazdins Collections Borrowing Times/Limits
    4. 4. Why Did We Do It? CC Photo by Flickr user DoBeRaGi
    5. 5. Circulation
    6. 6. $$ 1997 - 2012
    7. 7. $$ 2010 - 2012
    8. 8. Evidence ILS Data User Feedback (Email & LibQUAL) Staff Interviews Staff Calendars CC Photo by Flickr user ºNit Soto
    9. 9. Question 1: Increase in overdues? CC Photo by Flickr user newmexico51
    10. 10. % of Circulating Items Overdue June 2012 June 2013
    11. 11. Caution! Archive your ILS data! CC Photo by Flickr user Latente
    12. 12. Question 2: Students ‘sitting on’ books?
    13. 13. Renewals as a % of Circulation
    14. 14. Question 3: What do users think?
    15. 15. Good email! I rushed right over to borrow a book [In my Library Record] there is a column that says, ‘”As of now, you owe” and then it is blank! Too cool. I have a whole bunch of overdue books, so I will bring them in tomorrow. I am sure I am one of many who are sending you emails with a big Thank You! This is brilliant, clever, excellent - all of the above. Very good news for the start of the term. Some pretty substantial changes. I guess I don't have to worry about my fines from 1975 anymore! Great job in the proactive response to the challenges/opportunities in Library processes and usage! I literally jumped up and yelled Touchdown when I read the email. This has revolutionized things for me. While I am not one the people who accumulated 'infractions' of this nature ... I think what the library has done is wonderful. I used to hear a lot of disgruntled faculty and students not being happy with their 'treatment' ... and this should do a lot to help! Love it! Thanks for keeping VIU current. I am looking forward to using the employee loans in preparation for an upcoming exam. I especially appreciate the new policies towards fines and blocking, as they relate to student borrowers. I’ve noticed a culture of fear around library use (in my community re: public libraries, and with students here) where users are hesitant to use library resources because of expected punitive action and disapproval if they don’t “follow the rules.” Now, when I encourage students to indulge in the pleasures and benefits of borrowing hard copy books, I can mention the new policies, which might relieve some of their hesitation about incurring fines or other penalties.
    16. 16. Feedback from users: LibQUAL 2013 …I do also appreciate your recent policy changes regarding fines, etc. I find that they make the library usage experience to be much more friendly and accessible. I would like fees for overdue books to not be so much, I think the charges are outrageous and should be lowered.
    17. 17. Question 4: What do staff think? CC Photo by Flickr user Duke Yearlook
    18. 18. Circulation Staff Reactions: Changes to Fines It feels really good not to have to charge people fines, and the relief on the students’ faces is great…  …a really positive experience…it’s reduced a lot of friction between clients and staff. Students are pleasantly surprised, but still most aren’t aware.  I’ve had some students mention to me that ‘oh I’ve got fines...” and they’re reluctant to come back to the library for that reason… Anyone who’s using libraries, whether public or academic, you hate to charge people money for something like that, but especially students because they’re so damn poor.  And they’re quite appreciative. You keep finding special circumstances where we should punish people.  And I don’t know how else we punish them.  I don’t think fines are the way to go.
    19. 19. Circulation Staff Reflections: Changes to Loans Video loans being longer made faculty happy. It really feels good not to be hanging on to these books, when they’re hardly going out at all, you’re going to restrict them so much?  It just feels like a better match for the way that physical books are being used. The other piece - the periodicals being part of the loanable collection I’ve heard positive feedback about that too.  Not a lot of libraries have their print holdings available on loan, or not on some special loan, where you get one day to glance at it, so I think that’s really good for the library. For myself, I don’t have to do the appeals I used to have to do.  There’s a lot less of that.  There’s probably slightly less cash handled, and definitely less conflict.
    20. 20. Circulation Staff Reflections: Interactions with Users Having been little mini policemen all our lives at the circulation desk, it’s really nice not to do that kind of punitive stuff. I’ve come away feeling a bit negative with some of my interactions with students [with reserves] because the fines are quite low, they’re like ‘well, I’m going to keep it anyways’ since it’s .25 cents an hour or $2/day, depending on what kind of loan it is. I had a girl here today, and she was like ‘oh, I’ve got to get my photo ID so I’ll pay my library fine.’ And she didn’t have a fine - it had been forgiven in September, so she was really happy about that, and she left with a big stack of books.  So it was really an awesome arc of the library experience, because she came in really negative and left really positive. [At another institution] you’d have people who went to school in their 20s and didn’t return books, and they return it as a mature student and they have a fee of $54 waiting for them.  It’s not really a welcoming thing!
    21. 21. Circulation Staff Reflections: Other Comments I think this idea has traction.  I just think circ staff all over the country would heave a collective sigh of relief.  Because it was the worst part of the job, phoning overdues or telling people their privileges have been suspended and yet, back in the day that was our only weapon.   We’re saying we trust the students and we’re treating them like mature adults. We’re giving them the benefit of the doubt. It makes the library a less punitive idea, a less restrictive idea, the gatekeeper idea - all that, and that’s really great to see us moving forward. I think it’s really good for the library, and I don’t think it’s resulted in students misusing it.  I don’t.  I mean, there’s going to be a certain percentage that never returns books whether there’s a fine or not.  But overall, I think most people return their books on time, or as close as they can under the circumstances… Sometimes you just need a couple extra days.
    22. 22. Conclusions CC Photo by Flickr user James Laing Cows are better suited to pastures than libraries.
    23. 23. Jean Blackburn Collections & User Experience Coordinator jean.blackburn@viu.ca CC Photo by Flickr user Miss Jo Kathleen Reed Assessment & Data Librarian kathleen.reed@viu.ca @kathleenreed Dan Sifton Coordinator of Technical Service & Library Automation daniel.sifton@viu.ca

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