The Great Overdue Fine Read-Off!

(please email me if it won’t open for you, and I will send it via email.)

Overdue fines: the bane of my library existence. I so wish my district just do away with the 5-cents/day fine for overdue library materials. In my experience, it is ineffective and punitive. To me, if the student has returned the book, I’m good with that. My main priority is to get books into the hands of students, and anything that prevents me from doing that is counterproductive. This is really a rant for another time, so I digress. Just know that I hate these fines.

I have tried so many things over the years in an effort to curtail the number of fines at my school. I’ve extended the checkout period from two weeks to three, delivered weekly notices, automated phone calls home, thrown popcorn parties, tried ROBOT (“Returning Our Books On Time”)–all of which have created more work for me without really making a dent in the number of fines my students have.

In my school, the vast majority of library fines owed equals less than $1. I do allow students to continue to checkout as long as their fine is 50 cents or less. I just can’t fathom not allowing checkout over a ten-cent fine.

Keeping all that in mind, I tried to make my latest scheme as easy as possible for me to manage. Very simply, students who choose to can “read off” their fines. One minute of reading=one cent of fine. So a student with a 50 cent fine could either pay the 50 cents, or he/she could read for 50 minutes to have the fine deleted.

I created bookmark reading logs for this purpose. The bookmark must be signed by a parent or the student’s ELA teacher. I am posting a PDF of the bookmark on TPT for others to use, but if you would like an editable copy of the original, just email me and I’ll send it your way! Though it is posted to TPT, it is free.

UPDATE–In the first three days of implementing the Fine Read-Off, we have had HUGE participation! Already, seven students have “read-off” a total of $3.45 in library fines (345 minutes of reading). We originally copied 30 bookmarks at a time and have had to run to the copier several more times because we kept running out. After 2 copier runs for 30 more bookmarks each time, we finally copied 100 pages (300 bookmarks), so we don’t have to keep running to the copier.

The best part is that I’ve checked out to students who haven’t checked out books since September. Last Friday alone, we circulated 480 books. The same day last year (the Friday before spring break), we circulated only 130. I attribute that 100% to the fine read-off. AND we haven’t even advertised it. I simply sent an email to the ELA teachers and have conversations with students who come in who have fines. Word has spread all on its own!

More creative ways to kiss those fines goodbye:

No Overdue Fines? How One Media Coordinator Encourages Reading Among Middle School Students–Yes, yes, YES! Ms. Allen is my kind of librarian!

When Is It Due? And Other Thoughts on Library Vocabulary –Flexibility is key for middle school librarians. A great discussion on the impracticality of overdue fines and due dates.

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  • Love this idea! I hated fines in my middle school library so I started a "Food for Fines" program. When a student brought in a non-perishable food item I forgave their fines. Once a box of food was collected, it was donated to the local food bank.
    During conferences I was explaining this program to a parent who told me he was wondering what had happened to all the canned lima beans in the pantry!

    • I did "food for fines" a couple of years ago in the month of December. I didn't have very much participation, but I think if I did that on an ongoing basis, it would be more popular.

  • I made the decision a long time ago if I ever got the opportunity I was going to do away with fines. That time came 15 years ago when I came to the Guam. Yep I went to administration and told them that the only thing that fines did successful was to make the patron mad. I still generate notices and if the book isn't returned one month after the final notice a charge is placed on the school bills. This school year I have billed around 20 times and the miracle happen when the parent saw the charge on the bill and the book came back. I wave all but a processing fee.

    • Robert, I need to check with my new school in China. Really, really hoping there are no overdue fines there. If there are, maybe I can talk to admin to see if we can get that changed. It does nothing but discourage students from checking out–totally counter to what I am trying so hard to do every day.

  • I am so glad that I am in control of the fines situation at my school – I do not charge fines, but like Robert (whom I worked with and who I remember as Mr. Bob 🙂 ), I do send notes home when the book is so late it's marked lost. The dollar amount on that bill is an amazing motivator for the students to return their books. 😀

    • Yes, ma'am! I just wrote an update at the bottom of my post–after only three days, I've seen a huge increase in circulation!

  • We don't do fines. We do charge for lost books. Some student's parents don't care and will never pay. I have created a contract and with teachers' permission have the student work off the lost book(s). I had them come in and wash books, dust, wipe down computers, stamp cancelled books. 20 minutes per $1. When they finished, I forgave the book.


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