The Cochrane Public Library (CPL) has made a major step forward with the elimination of all membership and late fees for library materials, effective immediately.

Approved by the library board on Jan. 10, this new fee and fine-free model will significantly reduce barriers to accessing the library's resources and services and reflects the library’s dedication to equitable service for all. It's something they have been exploring for some time.

"This is a huge move for us because libraries are all about sharing, we're all about being barrier-free," says library director Monique Fiedler-Sills. "We want people in our community to access these resources because it improves their lives, and the library essentially belongs to the community."

"It means that they have access to so many more resources than they did before, to our collections of which we have physical materials, online materials, power tools, programs, and a myriad of services. It ensures it's a little easier to get to and access the library."

People will still require a library card but now it will be free.

"All they'll need is proof of address and photo ID, and they're good to go," she says.

Such a move has become commonplace in Alberta. As of April 2022, 59 per cent of Alberta libraries had eliminated membership fees, believing they disproportionately impact lower-income households.

Additionally, libraries across North America have been moving to a fine-free system. A 2019 survey of nine library systems that eliminated fines found none had experienced an increase in late returns or longer wait times.

In some cases, quite the opposite had taken place. Patrons were borrowing more items and there was an increase in overdue materials being returned.

All outstanding late fees have been forgiven with the changes instituted, says Fiedler-Sills. There are, however, charges for lost or damaged materials.

If an item has been red-flagged as lost, something that occurs after it is 45 days overdue, it still can be returned.

"We don't want to charge people. We'd rather just have the item, so if they can return the item then that comes off of their account, too."

Previously, local library accounts were blocked once late fees totalled $10, and a patron wasn't able to borrow further materials. Of all blocked accounts, 25 per cent belong to children.

“Developing early literacy skills is foundational to future success,” says Fiedler-Sills. “Generally families borrow more than the average patron and overdue fines add up quickly. Our goal is to support children’s literacy development – not punish families who regularly access the library to instill a love of reading in their children.”

Board chair, Cyndie Baum credits the move to increased community donations and the annual operating funds from the Town of Cochrane.

"While this budget was a tough one, our community and council truly value the library and through their support, demonstrate that children’s literacy and barrier-free access to reading, is essential,” says Baum.

Fees and fines previously accounted for 6.9 per cent of the library's total operating revenue.

The library is inviting the community to mark this major shift on Family Literacy Day, Jan. 28. Activities include local author talk, puppet shows, and cake.

Watch for more details.