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More libraries dropping late fine policies during coronavirus pandemic

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Posted at 9:48 AM, Feb 11, 2021

More libraries are dropping their late fines.

The Urban Libraries Council says since March of last year, 25 of its member libraries have decided to go fine free. That's around the same time most libraries had to close their doors because of the pandemic.

About 160 libraries that are part of the council have made the call to stop charging fines since 2017. There are even more that have also stopped doing this.

Curtis Rogers at the Urban Libraries Council says the pandemic helped highlight that it doesn't make much sense to keep implementing these fines.

“They were just saying keep them at home at the beginning of the pandemic. As time went on, many libraries went on to test these periods of fine amnesty and fine forgiveness. And in a lot of cases, those have become permanent,” said Rogers.

Some other reasons why it made more sense to stop implementing fines is that a lot of the materials that libraries now offer come in digital format. Whether that's an e-book or streaming content, those materials don't really need to be "turned in."

Also, in some cases, libraries were paying more money to implement fines than the money they were actually making.

The San Francisco Public Library went fine free before the pandemic. It decided to drop fines because they deterred people from low-income communities, as well as communities of color to use library services.

“These are the very families that we want to have access to the library and access to knowledge. We don't want to be barring people from the libraries,” said Anne Stuhldreher, Director of the Financial Justice Project.

San Francisco has had success with its fine free policy. More people are checking out books and materials because they're not afraid of possible fines, and the library is still getting its books returned on time.

“They started sending more reminders. Sometimes, those reminders were by text or email. They would auto-allow people to auto renew their books as well,” said Stuhldreher.

More libraries are moving away from fines and experts believe it will eventually become a common policy.