By Rogan Hamby, Data and Project Analyst at Equinox Open Library Initiative
Recently an increasing number of libraries have decided that going fine free is an important part of their plans to provide optimized services for their communities. Many other libraries are interested in this possibility but not sure how they would accomplish this. To help you out here are the things to look at in going fine-free at your Evergreen library.
The one thing you must do to go fine-free is to not charge fines anymore. In Evergreen there are three components to this. First under Administration -> Server Administration -> Circulation Recurring Fine Rules you will want to create a rule for zero fines.
Now go to Administration -> Server Administration -> Circulation Max Fine Rules and create a max fine rule for zero fines.
Finally, go to Administration -> Local Administration -> Circulation Policies and edit your existing rules to use your new recurring and max fine rules.
While you are doing this you also have an opportunity to condense any circulation policies that only differ due to fine amounts. While that is all you have to do in order to go fine-free, there are a few other things you will want to consider.
One concern with going fine-free is how to encourage patrons to return materials and prevent further loss of unreturned materials. The answer in Evergreen is a group threshold for a standing penalty. Go to Administration -> Local Administration -> Group Penalty Thresholds.
Here you will want to edit or create thresholds for the penalty PATRON_EXCEEDS_OVERDUE_COUNT. The ‘Threshold’ field contains the number of overdue checkouts that will trigger this penalty. Change the threshold to any value you want. You can create different thresholds for different patron groups by using the ‘Group’ drop-down selector and creating new penalty thresholds so that perhaps Adults are limited to 5 while Juveniles get 10.
One important consideration is that you will have a transition period. Evergreen stores the values of circulation rules in the circulation when it is made. So, if you check a book out with a $0.10 a day fine on July 1st and switch to fine-free on July 2nd that book will still accumulate $0.10 a day fines if it becomes overdue.
One tool that libraries can do to reduce fines for check-ins is to use the Amnesty Mode check-in modifier on the ‘Checkin Items’ screen. This won’t remove existing fines on a circulation but will prevent new ones from being generated during the check-in.
You will want to review any existing print, email and SMS notices you generate for their language in regards to fines. In fact, this may need to be done twice, once while transitioning if fines continue to accumulate on older circulations and then to finalized new language after a determined cut off point. You can calculate a cut off for a transition point by taking the date of your switch to fine-free and then adding the length of your longest circulation plus the time it would take to go to lost or the maximum time based fine accumulation.
Finally, as with any public service impacting change, you will want to prepare staff. All staff should have the major talking points about why the library is doing this and how it benefits the community. Additionally, some libraries will choose to allow staff to forgive or void fines either during the transition or permanently. In this case, circulation staff will need the account permissions to apply the payments or void bills.
Talk to Your System Administrator
So far we have talked about what can be done in the staff client. Additional tools exist for those with the ability to directly write scripts for the Evergreen database. This shouldn’t be done unless the person doing it is very comfortable with these kinds of changes but it is a powerful tool. Two major opportunities exist for those who do a data project as part of going fine-free. One is that you can edit existing open circulations to use the new fine free rules and not accumulate new fines. Not having to have a transition period greatly simplifies the process for staff and patrons. The second is that if you also want to forgive historical fines you can have those zeroed out in bulk.