Library users in Leeds need no longer fear a penalty for late book returns after fines were abolished completely.
Leeds City Council have confirmed their decision to get rid of the fines system to improve access to the library service.
As part of the policy change, they're also removed the requirement to produce identification to join one of Leeds' public libraries.
There's also an amnesty, so any existing members with outstanding charges will have them wiped.
To prevent users failing to return books, staff can suspend an account until an overdue item is brought back.
The rule change was announced today on the Leeds Libraries Facebook page and generated a positive response, although concerns were expressed about a potential shortfall in the library service's budget.
The council admitted that around £100,000 worth of library fines are currently unpaid in the city, and they are now unlikely to recoup these costs.
However, they also stated that a number of 'back-office changes' had enabled them to absorb the shortfall.
The abolition of the proof of address requirement has been implemented in order to make libraries more welcoming to people who are homeless or living in temporary accommodation, while the enforcement of fines can deter those on low incomes from visiting a library.
The city council has pointed to examples of other towns and cities around the world which have gone 'fine-free' and seen an increase in library usage.
A book was once famously returned to Armley Library over a century after it was loaned out in 1883. A builder called Rusholme Hutton borrowed The Siege of Troy and The Wanderings of Ulysses and it was eventually returned by his grandson.
Chief librarian Andrea Ellison said:-
“Library fines may have been designed to encourage people to return books on time, but even relatively small sums can be a real barrier, causing many to miss out on free services. By changing our policy and also making it easier to join, Leeds Libraries will be accessible to more people than ever during the Leeds Year of Reading and beyond.”
Coun James Lewis added:-
“We want everyone living in Leeds to enjoy the benefits of the library service and promote reading for pleasure. Our communities have access to an amazing range of Leeds Libraries support. We hope more children will join the library and that anyone studying, looking for a job, starting a business or needing help getting online will find it easier to access our service.”
In April 2018, Trafford Council in Greater Manchester became the first local authority in the country to abolish fines, citing fears that the measures were deterring people from using the library. However, they admitted that they expected to lose around £30,000 per year in revenue, as the maximum penalty had been £10. Critics of the fine system have described it as 'Victorian' and off-putting for customers.
Many councils have already stopped fining children for late returns.