One of the Largest U.S. Library Systems Just Eliminated Late Fees

"Everyone in the city should be able to share in the wealth of information, enrichment, and entertainment in our collection," Mayor Eric Garcetti said of the change.

"Everyone in the city should be able to share in the wealth of information, enrichment, and entertainment in our collection," Mayor Eric Garcetti said of the change. Shutterstock

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The Los Angeles Public Library will eliminate fees for overdue items this spring, joining a growing number of library systems that have identified fines as barriers to access for low-income residents.

The Los Angeles Public Library will stop collecting late fees on books and other borrowed materials next spring, the latest in a growing number of cities to go fee-free in an effort to make libraries more accessible for the communities they serve.

“Our library is a civic and cultural treasure, and everyone in the city should be able to share in the wealth of information, enrichment, and entertainment in our collection,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a statement. “We are ending these fines because patrons show care and integrity in the handling of these precious materials—and nothing should stand in the way of Angelenos who want to share in all the library has to offer.”

Fines for overdue materials had “disproportionately impacted families and individuals with limited resources, and these penalties are often a deterrent to library use,” the mayor’s office said. Removing the fines “will encourage library use and is expected to increase the number of library cardholders.” 

Under its current fee structure, the library charges 35 cents per day for overdue books, magazines and audiobooks, 15 cents per day for overdue children’s materials and $1 per day for past-due DVDs. The city will also do away with the $10 “service fine” it charges patrons who lose library materials, but will continue to charge replacement costs for items that are more than 45 days overdue, as well as fines for damaged items.

The changes will take effect in the spring and will include forgiveness for any outstanding fees. The library will also increase—from two to three—the number of times patrons can renew materials, unless the item is requested by another patron.

The new policies are not expected to affect the library’s budget. Revenue from fines has steadily decreased for six years, the mayor’s office said, and currently accounts for less than 1% of the library’s operating budget.

More than 100 cities—including Chicago, the District of Columbia, Nashville and Denver—have eliminated fines “because they act as a significant and inequitable barrier to service,” according to a report prepared for the Los Angeles Board of Library Commissioners. Other libraries have found that late fines are “not effective” and have “no impact on return rates,” according to the Seattle Public Library, which will stop charging using them at the beginning of this year.

“Getting rid of late fines can even increase the use of library materials,” the Seattle library said on its website. “It’s good for our community. Fines are not predictable revenue. With more people using digital materials like e-books, we can no longer count on late fines to help cover costs.”

The change could be particularly significant in Los Angeles, now the largest fee-free library system in the country. The city is home to more than 2 million library card holders who borrowed more than 16.1 million items last year.

“At the Los Angeles Public Library, we are proud to serve the largest, most diverse population of any library in the nation,” City Librarian John F. Szabo said in a statement. “We welcome everyone, and we are all about equity, access, opportunity, empowerment and lifelong learning. By removing barriers and going fine-free, we will be better able to serve everyone in Los Angeles.”

Kate Elizabeth Queram is a Staff Correspondent for Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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