Is It Finally Time For Library Fines To Be Over?

An image of a paper due date slip, with stamped due dates ranging from 1983 to 2002.

Library due date slip (Wikicommons)

An interesting question arose on the library listserv I subscribe to, and I’d love to hear various people’s input on it. How do you feel about public libraries going fine free? That is, libraries no longer charging fines for overdue books and lost/missing items?

On one hand, the revenue from fines help keep the library running, although I’d personally like to see a breakdown of how the revenue streams actually fit into a library’s budget, and it reflects a need to have patrons respect the time and work put into keeping the collection up to date and not filled with ragged, torn books. Also, some libraries use the fine system to keep people above a certain limit of money due off of community computers, to reflect that their refusal to pay their fines have restricted all of their library rights, not just borrowing books.

On the other hand, as many members of the listserv pointed out, libraries are often used by the disenfranchised and the low-income. Not everyone can afford to pay a fine, and not everyone loses a book or keeps a book past its due date out of malice. Having a fine system does not encourage that patron subset to return to the library, and it looks like it’s a pretty big patron subset to lose.

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