New library borrowing rules sets suspension at 10 overdue items

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The City of Winnipeg is cracking down on overdue books and other library materials, which could result in some patrons temporarily losing ability to borrow items.

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The City of Winnipeg is cracking down on overdue books and other library materials, which could result in some patrons temporarily losing ability to borrow items.

Those who have borrowed 10 or more overdue library items “will have their memberships suspended until overdue items are returned,” effective Feb. 1, according to a new policy announced on the Winnipeg Public Library’s Twitter and Facebook accounts this week.

City spokesman Adam Campbell said the new suspension rule is meant to ensure books are readily available to patrons.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Winnipeg Public Library patrons who have borrowed 10 or more overdue items “will have their memberships suspended until overdue items are returned,” effective Feb. 1, according to a new policy announced by the library this week.

“Decreasing the number of overdues a customer can have on their account before their borrowing privileges are suspended will help enhance inventory control and customer access to high-demand titles,” Campbell said Friday in an emailed statement.

Prior to the change, memberships were not suspended until a patron had at least 50 overdue items — though the city noted that amount had increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. The city did not confirm the pre-pandemic limit by deadline Friday.

The city says the new borrowing practices follow similar policies in place in Edmonton, Vancouver and Toronto.

The changes come after the city stopped charging late fees on overdue library books and materials Jan. 1, 2021. The library system is not expected to reinstate late fees.

“Overdue fines create a barrier for those who can benefit most from library services. Fines also create negative experiences for our community and library staff, and discourage use of the library,” wrote Campbell.

The city said 6,514 library items are currently overdue — about 10 per cent of the number currently checked out.

The news of potential suspensions drew a mixed response from library users.

Evan Krosney, a member of the Friends of West Kildonan Library coalition, said the policy seems fair overall.

“I think it broadly makes sense to have policies that can ensure the library is kept sustainable, and it’s certainly an improvement on (past) policies… But I think the bigger issue here that this policy doesn’t address is that, broadly speaking, our libraries in Winnipeg are being underfunded,” said Krosney.

The city should increase the budget to purchase new books, which could also help ensure they are more readily available upon request, he added.

“If we’re not purchasing enough of those books to begin with, than waiting lists are going to grow too long and people aren’t going to have access to the same resources that they would have otherwise.”

By contrast, a member of the Manitoba Library Association deemed the policy too punitive.

“On the surface, this decision doesn’t seem like they’re trying to reduce barriers to accessing the collection… There are extenuating circumstances where people will lose access to materials… It’s not uncommon for parents to sign out (10) books, if not more, on a single account for one child,” said Richard Bee, association director at large for advocacy.

“It does seem like a very severe punishment for this, especially when there is already still a charge in place for having lost items.”

Bee said it’s good the suspensions would only last until the items are returned. However, he said it’s concerning the city didn’t provide information to justify the policy change within its social media announcement.

While a library official was not available for an interview Friday, two city councillors agreed with the move.

“The idea is to ensure that we get better inventory control… I think 10 items (being the criteria for a suspension is) OK. I think the policy sounds like not too (much of an) undue hardship,” said Coun. John Orlikow, chairman of the community services committee.

Coun. Sherri Rollins, who previously advocated to eliminate library late fees, said the new policy won’t really be much of a change for the average user.

“You will not be charged for overdue books, but what has changed is if you have 10 or more overdue books, you have to return them before you can take more out,” she said. “It is a reminder you need to bring your books back.”

The city still charges replacement fees for overdue materials that have not been returned within two months of a due date, billing patrons the amount it paid for the outstanding item, plus a $6.50 processing fee.

— with files from Kevin Rollason and Tyler Searle

joyanne.pursaga@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @joyanne_pursaga

Joyanne Pursaga

Joyanne Pursaga
Reporter

Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.

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