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Gamify Your Library Fines

   March 31st, 2011

Your Speed Is police radar cameraLast weekend I heard a story on NPR about how Sweden is turning driving the speed limit into a game - complete with cash rewards.

Instead of just using traffic cameras to catch people speeding, they're using them to also catch people obeying the speed limit - and by following the law, those people earn a chance at winning a share of the revenue generated by speeding tickets. By offering a reward, the police are hoping to encourage more people to drive safely.

The theory, called gamification, is that people enjoy playing games because of the positive reinforcement from doing something well - thus turning something normally punitive, like a speeding fine, into a game of consequences: play badly and get punished, play well and get rewarded.

How awesome would it be to do this with library overdue fines?

I prefer not charging fines at all, like my library, because I personally don't think fines should be a revenue stream for libraries. It's more important to get materials back on time than to profit from irresponsibility.

Which is why this sounds like a great idea to me - it focuses on responsible borrowing, and in a fun way.

I haven't worked out all the logistics, but it seems possible to try it for one week a month, one month a year, etc. And ideally, there would be as many "winners" as possible - so instead of one grand prize winner, a whole bunch of names could be drawn who each win $5 or $10 - chances are, many of them will donate it back to the library anyway, but still feel good about winning.

There might be a problem with libraries giving away money (although fines aren't tax money), in which case there could be a different prize - maybe a $5 gift certificate to the book sale. Anything to reward good behavior - and highlight that it is important to get library materials back on time.

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18 Responses to “Gamify Your Library Fines”

  1. Gamify Your Library Fines | Walking Paper Says:

    […] usual, Brian Herzog nails it: Instead of just using traffic cameras to catch people speeding, they’re using them to also catch […]

  2. iLibrarian » Gamify Your Library Fines Says:

    […] Herzog at the Swiss Army Librarian suggests that libraries start to Gamify Your Library Fines. In this very interesting article, he makes the argument that supporting patrons who don’t […]

  3. mara Says:

    Sounds like fun — I could check out a book and return it immediately, 100 times a week, just to get entered into the contest.

  4. Gamifying library fines | The Sports Librarian Says:

    […] Click here for more […]

  5. Brian Herzog Says:

    @mara: I know, right? There are always patron who try to subvert the system in order to benefit themselves – staying on internet computers too long, lying about room reservations, taking things without checking them out, etc. The simple solution, in this case, is just to have a rule of “one entry per patron,” and let library staff enforce it, like any other library policy. Most games have rules, which people are used to, and I think that should probably take care of it.

  6. jacob varghese Says:

    Neat way to reinforce good behavior and highlight the importance of receiving library materials back on time. My family and me have been regular public library patrons for a long time. However, I have never given much thought how important returning items back on time is (though we do so – 99% of the time). Maybe library’s should highlight the ‘why’ more.

  7. 1Up @ Your Library « Agnostic, Maybe Says:

    […] been wanting to write about Brian Herzog’s post about gamifying the library experience as well as Chad Boeninger’s post about rewarding library users with achievements. In approaching […]

  8. Victoria Petersen Says:

    At our small rural library, we have abolished fines on all materials except videos. We were lucky – our income from overdues was so negligible that our Board approved the staff suggestion to get rid of the fines as a measure of ‘goodwill’ to the community.

    As a result, most of our users are happy, and so are we (not having to collect!). An amazing number of people are surprised that they don’t have to pay fines – and still want to give to the library. We placed a jar on the circulation desk where we encourage people to ‘Donate’ to the Library. We have now seen an increase in donations!!

    I can see that this may not work for all libraries, but it has worked for us and our community.

  9. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Victoria: I agree that overdue fines would have to generate a huge amount of revenue to justify the negative experience associated with them – both patrons and staff. We also have a donation jar on the counter, and many people who bring things back late “fine” themselves with a donation, which just works so much better.

  10. Tom Says:

    Great idea for rewarding good behavior. I posted a small blog about it for one of my G entries in the a-z April blogging challenge, thanks for the post.

  11. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Tom: thank you. I like your idea of posting by letters – and I’m happy to have made the list.

  12. Friday Reads – Birthday Edition « Matt Phillips Says:

    […] Swiss Army Librarian » Gamify Your Library Fines […]

  13. Meela Says:

    I love this! I always slow down when you get those roadwork signs that say “thankyou” when you are under the speed limit.

    How about giving away the chance to select a purchase for the library?

  14. Julius Dondi Says:

    hate it or like it, this idea seems good.Why not try it in our local libraries here in Kenya! Rewarding compliance to set conditions is the best method of eradicating non-compliance.Therefore Library users who fully comply with library rules and regulations should be rewarded to ward-off tendency of non compliance in our libraries.I am sure no single library is happy dealing with cases after cases of disregard to library Rules and Regulations despite the fact that it is a source of revenue for most libraries in Kenya today.For me at Gusii Institute of Technology I want to try-out Gamification as a twin method of curtailing non compliance as well as rewarding compliance to Set Rules and Regulations in the library

  15. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Meela: I think the reward could be just about anything your patrons would value – we accept purchase requests all the time, but maybe getting their name on a bookplate would be an incentive.

    @Julius: That’s great – please let me know how it goes.

  16. Dave Puplett Says:

    Fascinating – I had a similar idea a few weeks ago, along the same lines – give people incentives to play by the rules:


    I really think this could work!

  17. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Dave: I do like your model – anything fun and interesting is worth a shot. I think whatever it is needs to be simple to understand and implement – or, we could implement multiple rewards models, for that matter: one for younger people and gamers for who a complex rewards system is fairly intuitive anyway, and a more basic one that is more obvious. In any case, I think something like this would be a change welcomed by many patrons.

  18. eli Says:

    We’re two weeks into our fully gamified summer game. This stuff works! Don’t waste it trying to get people to adhere to circ rules, use it to encourage service discovery, community contribution and social metadata. See a player’s public page here: