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Food 4 Fines : Supporting the Community Where it Matters

Libraries and Librarians have enjoyed a plethora of stereotypes, including one that portrays the Librarian as a passive-aggressive gatekeeper, jealously guarding the books and punishing users with fines. However, the Librarian of the 21st Century is a culturally diverse, creative, active and socially-engaged individual dedicated to promoting intellectual freedom. It is precisely this sense of social responsibility which inspired OCAD University’s Dorothy H. Hoover Library staff to take action and get involved in soliciting food donations for the Student Union’s Starving Artist Pantry.

 The premise of this campaign was simple. For each non-perishable food item donated, patrons would receive two dollars off their overdue fines to a maximum of twenty dollars. Donations unrelated to fines were also encouraged. Operating under the catchy headline “Food 4 Fines” and equipped with an attractive orange bucket, customized buttons featuring a logo designed in-house, and social media tools, between October 3rd and October 15th Library staff campaigned for food donations in return for clearing library fines.Donation bucket 

With Facebook and Twitter accounts dedicated specifically to Food 4 Fines, as well as targeted e-mail notifications to staff, students and faculty through partnership with the Student Union, we began to distribute promotional material a few weeks ahead of the scheduled event. Posters featuring the catchy logo created by our very own Learning Zone Librarian, Marta Chudolinska, were also prepared ahead of the event. The posters were put up in key areas on campus and in the library and Learning Zone spaces. The logo was included on all communications – a quick way to promote instant recognition of Food 4 Fines-related advertising. Having prepared our plan of action, we wore our buttons and held our collective breath on the first day of the event. Would the event prove to be successful? Would users be interested in participating? Were we wasting our time?

 Food 4 Fines turned out to be bigger and more successful than we could have imagined! Bags and bags of donations were brought to the Library containing pasta, pickles, soups and even cat food (our patrons are so thoughtful!). Each donation was rewarded with a button and, in some cases, a completely clean record (so those patrons who had been hiding from the Library because of fines could now confidently stride in, head held high, and peruse for research material).

 While there may be budgetary concerns for some libraries, we found that many patrons continued to pay their fines in addition to bringing in donations. We also received much positive feedback from the community. Students were thrilled to participate in this initiative, oftentimes commenting on how much they admired the creative aspect of it. Some Library staff wore buttons to organizational meetings, prompting questions from staff and faculty and praise upon hearing the purpose behind the event. Word of mouth promotions proved to be the most winning form of advertising. The most successful endeavour was phoning people on the overdue list to notify or remind them of their overdue fines and let them know the event was happening. This resulted in a rush of donations, as soon as the following day.  This event fostered teamwork and creativity in staff as everyone brainstormed and shared ideas to maintain or improve service during the event. The ultimate measure of success was that the food drive resulted in so much food donated to the Starving Artist Pantry that the Student Union asked when we would do it again!

 This is just one example of how libraries can engage in their communities and support organizations in need.  After all, nurturing intellectual freedom requires not only healthy minds, but nourished bodies.  Libraries can opt to support local or national organizations, dedicating their time to supporting food banks, women’s shelters, youth in need and new immigrant communities. The possibilities are truly endless and it only really takes a creative approach, willing and supportive administration and a strong team spirit!

 Shireen Harbin with donation bucket



 Katya Pereyaslavska (M.F.A., M.I.) is a recent iSchool graduate from the University of Toronto currently assisting with the provision of Reference Services at the Dorothy. H. Hoover Library at the Ontario College of Art and Design University. She has worked in a variety of library settings as a Foreign Language Rare Book Cataloguer (AGO Library), Slavic Studies Reference Assistant (PJRC, Robarts Library), a Library Intern at both, the Davis Centre at Harvard University and the Regenstein Library at the University of Chicago. Her professional experience has been quite diverse, the common thread that connects the variety of positions she has held is her dedication to the advancement of the field of librarianship – be it through promotions, effective reference and cataloguing services or publications. She is. also the co-founder of the Toronto Desk Set, a local organization for librarians and information professionals passionate about our field ( As a dedicated blogger, I co-run a food blog ( and also run my own blog (

 Shireen Harbin (B.Sc.N., Library Technician) is a recent graduate of Seneca College’s Library and Information Technician program with a certificate in Archival and Records Management Practices from George Brown College and a background in Nursing. She currently provides circulation services at Dorothy H. Hoover Library, Ontario College of Art and Design University, and is interested in reference service, collection development, promotions, and archival practices.


Posted in V49-N1-Fall 2011, Volume 49Comments (0)

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