Trafford Council has become the first public library authority to scrap fines for late returns in a bid encourage more people to use the services.
The move to abolish library fines “sends a welcome message to our residents in Trafford that they will have access to a completely free library service,” the north west council said in a statement. It took the step after feedback suggested the fines were “off-putting” for customers.
In a further move to encourage more people to read, the council will also provide every child whose birth is registered in the area with a library card and book start pack, after noting that “most learning of literacy happens in the first 11 years of a child’s life, as does the development of a person’s love of reading”.
“Trafford will become the first public library authority in the country to adopt this policy which sends a welcome message to our residents in Trafford that they will have access to a completely free library service,” a spokesperson said. “This decision will overcome evidence that suggests that this charge is off-putting for customers and help to see a further increase in usage of libraries across the borough.
“This change also aligns with the Vision 2031 ambition of ‘no one held back, no one left behind’ as there would be no barriers, either actual or perceived, of people accessing libraries and all they had to offer.”
Council leader Sean Anstee told the Guardian that the area had seen its first rise in library usage in 17 years last year. While he said the change would be “permanent”, the impact of the fine abolishment would be scrutinised by councillors.
“We don’t have an issue with people retaining books at the moment and if we didn’t have a book returned, that person’s ability to borrow more books would be removed,” he said.
Ian Anstice, editor of Public Library News, said Trafford’s decision had “shocked the UK public library world”.
Writing on his website, he said: “The big barrier to this in the UK is of course where the money is going to come from if we get rid of fines. Charging people for late books does bring in some money that will need to be replaced in another way. There’s also – no surprise in the library world this – a fundamental lack of research of shared data on how effective removing fines are. We need that evidence shared in order to spread good practice and identify bad.”
He added: “Personally, I am tired of seeing people arguing over fines in libraries and I know that fines are a reason people tell me socially they no longer use libraries. So I really hope this is a successful experiment.”
The borough currently has 12 libraries. Fines for late returns will end in April.