Fines for overdue library books are to be removed with immediate effect, Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey has announced.
As of close of business on Monday, October 11, there were 87,412 items are registered on Libraries NI’s system as being overdue.
All of the associated charges for these will be wiped from the system.
Minister Hargey said: “As we continue to live with Covid, it is important that our local libraries are open for everyone to use and that there are no access barriers. That is why I am delighted that Libraries NI has reviewed its policy on overdue actions with the result that charges will be removed.
“Fines, particularly where they accumulate over time, are more likely to impact vulnerable people, including those on lower incomes. This positive move paves the way for customers who have been anxious about overdue fines to return to libraries and avail of the many services they provide."
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. We are delighted to be introducing this for our customers, providing what we hope will be an opportunity for many to reconnect with libraries.
"Our focus is on offering a free service to all members of the community without barriers to participation and it is encouraging to see the usage of libraries increase each week as we reintroduce face to face programming.
“I would like to remind everyone that all library books borrowed throughout the pandemic, when restrictions applied, were automatically renewed so did not incur any charges during this time.
"As part of returning to a more normal way of life in wider society, we are encouraging our customers to come back into libraries and for anyone who still has library books at home, to please return them for someone else to enjoy, safe in the knowledge there will be no overdue fines attached to their account.”
A review of overdue charges was conducted by Libraries NI in October 2019, which recommended that overdue charges be removed.
Libraries NI generated 10p income per day from charging for overdue items, and this income stream varies from year to year.
A total of £73,510 was generated through charging for overdue items during 2018/19.
However, after associated administration costs, the actual income figure was £7,260 for 2018/19.
The Covid crisis resulted in a drop-off in borrowing physical books from February 2020. All library books borrowed throughout the pandemic, when restrictions applied, were automatically renewed so did not incur any charges during this time.