Montreal moves to abolish public library late fees for good

·2 min read
​The change will have to be voted on at the borough level. The City expects all boroughs will have made the change by October.  (Katherine Holland/CBC - image credit)
​The change will have to be voted on at the borough level. The City expects all boroughs will have made the change by October. (Katherine Holland/CBC - image credit)

The city of Montreal announced Wednesday that it wants late fees abolished in all public libraries on its territory.

This has become an increasing trend in libraries across the U.S. and Canada, with administrators saying that late fees act as a barrier for disadvantaged or low-income families to services.

Late fees have been on hold during the pandemic and the city said in a news release that it wants to make the change permanent.

"The pandemic has shown to what point public libraries are essential and how they support vulnerable communities," reads the release.

"Unfortunately, late fees act as a barrier to use of libraries and that's what we want to address with this new measure."

In a statement, Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante said that denying access to library services "goes against our values of equity and social justice."

"With this abolition, we are making sure that no one is left behind. Many families no longer come to our libraries because their files are blocked due to late fees. This situation deprives children and other people in vulnerable situations of access to books, culture, but also computers, which are very popular with members."

The change needs to be voted on by each borough council, so the city expects it will come into effect at libraries across the island by October.

Olivia Levesque/CBC
Olivia Levesque/CBC

Denis Chouinard, president of the Association of Public Libraries in Quebec, applauded the measure, saying it will make services more accessible for everyone.

"Fees are like a tradition in libraries, but maybe not a good one," he said.

Chouinard told CBC that late fees account for a very marginal portion of a library's budget, and that the cost of a fine is a harsh punishment for a low-income family that outweighs any possible benefit to the facility.

While late fees are often low, they can add up quickly.

"For some families with many kids, it can happen that the fees accumulate so that paying them becomes a barrier to use."

Chouinard said libraries want to be "inclusive, open to everyone," and that without the threat of fees, people still tend to bring their books back on time.

"It's not like our shelves were empty. Quite the opposite," he said.

Without penalties, if someone does have to return a document late, "they aren't embarrassed to come back."

If someone repeatedly abuses the system, Chouinard said their membership can be suspended, though this happens rarely.

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