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Library patrons rack up the overdue fines

Port Moody library book borrowers paid a whopping $82,809 in late fees last year, but with the growing shift towards late-fee-free ebooks and online video streaming, money like that could soon be a thing of the past.

Port Moody library book borrowers paid a whopping $82,809 in late fees last year, but with the growing shift towards late-fee-free ebooks and online video streaming, money like that could soon be a thing of the past.

"We try not to think of late fines as revenues," said Port Moody library deputy director, Andree Duval. "But because we are getting paid that money, it does appear on the revenue line."

In fact, late fees were the third largest item on the revenue line for the library in 2010, right behind $1.35 million in funding from the city and $151,757 from the province.

The next largest revenue generator for the library according to its 2010 annual report, was its participation in the InterLINK lending program which allows anyone with a library card from one of 18 Lower Mainland area library systems from Vancouver to Pemberton, Lillooet to Hope, to borrow, return and transfer holdings to and from any participating branch free of charge.

When a non-resident borrows or requests a transfer from the Port Moody library, that library gets a payment from the InterLINK program for having it.

The idea is that the system encourages libraries to keep their collections up-to-date and in tune with demand. In 2010, Port Moody earned $49,313 from InterLINK through non-resident loans.

Duval added that many Tri-City residents don't realize too that their local library card can be used to borrow books at just about any public library in the province.

Under the recent program called BC OneCard, if you're say, on holidays in the Okanagan this summer and want to borrow a book from the library, all that's required is that you show your Tri-Cities library card and a piece of photo ID to the Okanagan library and you're free to borrow as many books as they will allow.

Best of all, there's no charge.

"They will either give you a BC OneCard or just put a sticker on your local card and away you go," Duval said.

You can even bring that book you borrowed back home with you and return it at the Port Moody library at no charge.

Duval said she and other library administrators are still amazed at the late fees that some users still garner, even in the age of automated reminders and online renewals.

"We have, like many libraries, pre-due announcements through email and a lot of people have signed up for that because they love being reminded and it hasn't really changed the fines at all," she said. "We're always surprised by it and we don't really do it as a punitive thing. We do it so the materials in our collection are available to all our patrons in a timely fashion."

And, contrary to popular belief, as the library increasingly embraces lending via downloadable ebooks - Port Moody currently offers 11,000 adult ebook titles and will look at acquiring and lending e-readers next year - the shift to digital loans doesn't mean that once a borrower downloads and ebook to their e-reader or iPad that it's theirs forever.

The usual time constraints for return or renewal still apply.

"People love them for the reason that there's no late fees," Duval said. "They just disappear off your system when the loan is up."

Duval said that there is a misconception that with ebooks, the library owns an unlimited number of copies. That's only true of the library's collection of ebook "Classics," for which the author's copyright has run out, which, in Canada, typically happens 50 years after the author's death.

For all the rest, the library has to loan each of its purchased copies one at a time just like a normal book.

Duval said that the Port Moody library continues to adjust to the "balancing act" of meeting vastly different public demands for services while becoming more and more a kind of community centre where people want more than just to come and read and borrow.

"We're trying to balance the traditional versus the innovative," Duval said, adding that library staff are looking at streaming online video to replace DVD loans in the future as well as connecting with library users via social networking to adapt to their needs.

In 2010, Port Moody residents made 323,000 visits to the library, borrowing 604,000 items.

Coquitlam and Port Coquitlam reports weren't available at The News' press time.