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The Library goes Fine-Free

Monday November 28th, 2022
Thanks for Paying it Forward

Your Library is borrowing an idea whose time has come – fine-free operations so members with overdue books don’t have to avoid using our services because they can’t afford late charges.

To assist our community during the pandemic and help drive recovery, The Library has operated without charging overdue fees since March 13, 2020. Going permanently fine-free underscores our new tagline: The Library is “Your Place to Belong!”

Some skeptics –especially those of us who grew up with painstakingly stamped “due date’ cards that fit snugly inside the book’s envelope----may think this plan will encourage a free-for-all, with patrons just taking books without limits. But rest assured, this plan has 1) key safeguards and 2) worked well in many major cities.  In fact, this modification in operations has even led to the return of many books once thought to be permanently “missing.”

Levying fines on overdue book holders is not exactly a high crime or a high cost. Still, it sets up an adversarial relationship between the library user and the librarian that is not the dynamic we hope to achieve.

Our goal is to support more people through our libraries, and help our locations become more accessible, forgiving sites of unfettered discovery, not a source of punitive fines. At the heart of our mission, The Library endeavors to be a collection of treasured materials, not a collection agency.

This trend toward a fine-free Library is driven partly by research demonstrating that fines are inequitably assigned to children and/or the economically disadvantaged.

For example, the Memphis Public Library went fine-free three years ago after research showed that family households making less than $25,000 held 33 percent of the unpaid Memphis fines.

Library leaders realized that the cost and time utilized to administer fine payments as low as 10 cents is counterproductive. More upsetting, most people who have fines stop using the library. We hope that eliminating fines will bring these folks back into the library fold and make them feel welcome.

Evidence shows that eliminating fines has increased library card adoption and usage, according to the American Library Association – which benefits everyone.

But lest you think that going fine-free will push books to the point of “no return,” please know that safeguards are in place. We are not rewarding theft or irresponsibility. If a member has more than what would have amounted to $10 in fines, they can no longer:

  • Check out materials or borrow laptops
  • Access Hoopla (which gives access to e-book, e-audio book, and e-music titles)
  • Reserve Library meeting rooms

Additionally, if an item is not returned within 48 days from the due date, members receive a bill and are assessed a replacement fee. The account will be forwarded to a collection agency for those with unpaid balances of $45 or more.

The Library remains committed to ensuring access for everyone and we make it easy for members to avoid landing in the “overdue” category. Borrowers can receive five renewals on an item if there are no hold requests from other members. Also, members can return found items up to a year after the billing date to have replacement charges waived.

Other libraries that have gone “fine free” have found the practice encourages responsibility. Many conscientious library patrons have innocently found themselves misplacing a book that winds up overdue—and that’s even more common with children who may have unintentionally shelved library books with their own book collection or buried it in the toybox in their room.

We hope that many in the community will help us ease the burden on those who may have overdue books but fear returning to The Library because they can’t pay the fines. When you visit one of our libraries or our website, you can help “Pay it Forward” by donating to help us remain fine-free.

Author Susan Orlean said libraries represent “the best about us as a society:  open, exciting, rich, informative, free, inclusive, engaging.”

In keeping with this aspirational objective, we hope this long-overdue move, borrowed from many other successful libraries, will make us — and our guests — truly “free.”

Christina Lauver
Marketing & Public Relations Manager

The above piece represents the views of the author and is meant to inspire dialogue and increase understanding and a sense of community. The opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the views of The Library. Members are welcome to comment below or contact us privately by using our online contact form >