Bookworms across Northern Ireland celebrated on Wednesday when it was announced that all fines on overdue books are to be removed with immediate effect.
There are currently 87, 412 items registered on Libraries NI’s system as being overdue, all charges of which were wiped as of close of business on Monday.
Belfast writer Sharon Dempsey (51) has welcomed the news and said that growing up, the library on the Ormeau Road was her “favourite place to go”, adding that libraries are “the life blood of communities”.
The author of ‘Who took Eden Mulligan?’ said that the fact that she could read any book she wanted for free “blew my little mind”.
“That library made me a life-long reader and a writer,” she said.
“While the Troubles were going on, I escaped into stories of far-away places.
“I believe that the removal of fines is an important way of dismantling barriers to reading,” Mrs Dempsey added.
“Writers love libraries and we get to discuss our work with readers at events. They provide so much to communities. They are a social hub from people at all stages of life. Libraries are the life blood of communities.”
Keen reader and director of the Light Theatre Company in Rostrevor, who organises the annual Bloomsday festival in the village, Alistair Livingstone, has, however, voiced some concerns on the announcement.
“I support my local library, Warrenpoint library, quite a lot, they do a great job and I get a lot of my books from there,” he said.
“I do hope that this recent announcement will encourage more people to be more honest about returning books as I’m afraid of the possible difficulties the libraries may face if people decide not to bring back books.”
Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey announced the news that fines would be scrapped, saying that “libraries are a crucial resource at the heart of our communities”.
“They serve as a place for people to access a wide range of services including books, newspapers, online resources, computers, printers, audio materials and study space,” she said.
Ms Hargey said that fines are more likely to impact vulnerable people within the community or those on lower incomes.
Between 2018 and 2019, a total of £73,510 was generated through charging for overdue items, however, after associated administration costs, the actual income figure was less than a tenth of this figure and was actually £7,260.
The Covid crisis resulted in a drop-off in borrowing physical books from February 2020, but all library books borrowed throughout the pandemic, when restrictions applied, were automatically renewed so did not incur any charges during this time.
Jim O’Hagan, Libraries NI chief executive, said: “The removal of overdue fines is an initiative that has seen positive results for many library services within the UK, the Republic of Ireland and indeed the rest of the world.”
The news comes ahead of Book Week NI which runs from October 18 to 24.