VANCOUVER -- Burnaby Public Library is eliminating fines for overdue materials permanently as it prepares to reopen its branches after closing to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

BPL follows North Vancouver City Library, which eliminated overdue fines in May, as well as the B.C. towns of Whistler, Smithers and Creston. Calgary and Edmonton have also gone the same route.

BPL is the biggest library system in B.C. to decide to remove fines, according to the City of Burnaby.

Eliminating fines is a way to reduce barriers to using library services, which include access to important educational materials, as well as access to computers and the Internet.

“Eliminating fines is a very important step in reducing barriers to library services and empowering residents on their path to lifelong learning,” Burnaby’s mayor, Mike Hurley, said in a release.

Along with other libraries across the region, Burnaby Public Library closed branches in mid-March to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Branches are opening for limited service July 13. After that date, patrons can pick up items that have been placed on hold without an appointment. Visitors can also access computers, printers and Wi-Fi in certain designated spaces. But branches won’t be open for browsing or meetings yet.

Staff will limit the number of patrons allowed inside branches, and visitors are asked to limit their visit to an hour or less.

North Vancouver CIty Library chief librarian Deb Hutchison said charging fines disproportionately affects families with lower household incomes and families with young children.

When NVCL eliminated fines, staff said fines represent less than one per cent of revenue for the library, and research has shown that patrons continue to bring books back.

“Most libraries that have implemented this practice see materials returned within one week of the due date,” said Leane Neufeld, board chair of the North Vancouver City Library.