Why Are Libraries Eliminating Late Fees?

Many libraries are moving to become fine-free not only because they end up being better for the community it serves but also for the library itself.

Libraries are known for many things like their large book collections, knowledgeable staff, and sometimes even those dreaded late fees for overdue books. Late fees and fines have been used by libraries for a long time to remind patrons to return library materials on time and while many people believe that fines are another form of revenue these methods have not been as effective as people originally thought.

Many are advocating for fine-free libraries not only because they end up being better for the community it serves but also for the library itself. Libraries across the country are starting to adopt this idea and as the years go by, we’ve seen more and more cities eliminating library fines. From Salt Lake City to London, libraries are adopting fine-free policies. Check out all of the libraries in the world that have made the transition so far!


Send your representatives an email to let them know that you support libraries and the freedom to access books at your local library

Curious about all the reasons why libraries are making this choice? Here is why libraries are eliminating late fees:

Higher Book Return Rates

Fine-free policies have worked well when it comes to recovering overdue books. When the San Francisco Public Library held a six-week fine-free period, over 700,000 items were returned including a book that hadn’t been in the library for over a century. Chicago saw a 240 percent increase in overdue materials just in the first month of implementing this idea. And, both libraries also saw an increase in the number of library card renewals and restorations with 5,000 San Francisco Patrons regaining library access and over 400 card renewals in Chicago.

Getting rid of fines wasn’t the only sign that things were better for the community. In the 1980s, libraries in Philadelphia actually doubled library fines to try to get books returned on time. This action achieved the exact opposite of what they expected. In fact, there was no effect on the return rate of materials and the borrowing rate actually decreased. Rather than acting as a way to encourage book returns, fines worked more as a barrier to deter people from coming back.

Fines Aren’t a Reliable Revenue

In San Diego, library staff assessed the amount it took to collect fines compared to the amount that was collected. This number ended up being much higher with the library finding that it spends nearly $1 million a year to collect $675,000 in fines. Nowadays, library patrons can expect to receive multiple alerts and reminders about their overdue materials and have their borrowing placed on pause until they return them.

Patrons Utilize Library Resources More

Studies have shown that a good percentage of people, especially those in low-income communities, have little to no access to the libraries because of as little as $10 fine limits on their accounts. In the South Side of Chicago, this was 30 percent of the residents in the area. When fines are removed, people feel welcome to rejoin the library community. When the number of returned materials increased after eliminating fines, so did the number of patrons with around 11,000 library users free to come and go as they pleased.

Children also play a huge role in this. These library patrons usually have little to no way to pay off library fines unless they were to ask parents. The Boston Public Library saw this as another barrier to access especially after only receiving 10 percent of the $250,000 owed to them by those under 18 in the community. The library decided to join the other 5% of libraries with fine-free policies and stopped charging minors late fees.

Improve Negative Associations With Libraries

Libraries Going Fine-Free