Library systems in and around the Greater Toronto Area are rolling out new programs and some are reducing late fees to help connect patrons with their materials during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In Toronto, the library system is removing overdue fines for its youngest users. The Toronto Public Library announced the removal of overdue fees in March, joining a growing number of library systems throughout Canada in reducing fines.
“Literacy is an essential factor of our diverse society and introducing children to reading is essential to higher literacy rates,” Coun. Paul Ainslie, a member of the Toronto Public Library’s board of directors, said in a statement. “Removing fines for children’s material in our public libraries is an important step in achieving this.”
Late fees harm racialized, low-income communities
Late fines served as an incentive for readers to hand in their books by the return date. However, the city concluded these fines harmed racialized and low-income communities in Toronto. Research conducted by the TPL found overdue fees may discourage families from taking advantage of resources the library has to offer.
“By eliminating children’s overdue fines, we are removing barriers that were once impeding access to a wide variety of services and support offered at our city’s libraries.” Mayor John Tory said in a press release.
Tory announced that children’s overdue fines will be covered by both the city’s budget and donations from Toronto Public Library Foundation. The removal of children’s fines is expected to generate a revenue loss of $600,000, or less than 0.5 per cent of the library’s annual operating budget.
Wait times for books are not expected to be delayed significantly however, customers will still be expected to pay the replacement costs for any materials lost, damaged, or not returned.
How libraries are facing the pandemic
With the pandemic, libraries had to close or risk spreading the virus. To continue operations safely, many libraries have started programs so people can still pick up and drop off books.
In Markham, Ont., the program is called Grab and Go. People can fill out a brief survey that includes a library user’s age range and personalized comments. Staff then use that information, as well as a user’s library history, to package relevant items for them to pick up.
Staff notify a customer once a bag is ready to be picked up. The bags are distributed through curbside pickup minimizing contact with staff. All that’s required for pickup is a library card.
“Parents requesting items for their children has been one of the largest demographics using our Grab and Go Program,” said Karen Yang, a social media manager at Markham Public Library, said by email.
The service was used most frequently around the time students were returning to school. Customers still use Grab & Go regularly for signing out books.
Markham Public Library has understood that returning books may not always be safe for customers. To make returns safer, readers can return their books in drop boxes usually located by the entrance. On average, 40 bags are prepared across the three branches that are still open each week.
“Our customers are very dependable, and they have been returning their items within a reasonable time frame,” Yang said.
Toronto offers a similar program. Bags are pre-prepared based on a theme for library users to pick up when stay-at-home orders are not in effect.
Several families have expressed support for the efforts of local libraries through social media. Nishant Patil is one parent that has commended the work ethic of library staff during the pandemic.
“I love their Grab & Go program. It creates a surprise for kids, and we discovered a few new series that we were not aware of,” Patil said via Facebook.
Patil’s family of four includes two young children. Typically, the family signs out books at the Jones branch of Toronto Public Library in Leslieville.
The cancellation of late fees has also been a boon for parents. Patil’s return record was continuously challenged by the pandemic. Travel difficulties meant books were returned late on occasion.
“It would have been painful if we had to pay late fees during this difficult time,” Patil said.
Several people on Facebook have expressed continued support for cancelling children’s late fees and hope they will extend to teens and adults as well.
“The late fee forgiveness program is a compassionate policy and has helped our family when we’ve been in quarantine and were not able to bring back books on time,” said Toronto Public Library user Carrie Klassen said.