The joint decision by the Brooklyn, New York City and Queens library systems, announced on Tuesday, to do away with “late fines” may surprise people who grew up in fear of handing in books late and having to pay these fines, but the decision was in the making for the past few years, according to Linda E. Johnson, president and CEO of Brooklyn Public Library.
Moreover, it’s a decision that at least 15 library systems in major cities have also made, including Baltimore, Chicago, Dallas, Miami, San Francisco, Washington, D.C. and others, according to a library spokesperson.
“It’s a decision we had wanted to make three years ago,” said Johnson. “We started working to improve the returns our patrons made, making sure we were communicating when people’s books were due. We were doing that through technology, texts and emails, putting stickers and things on the covers that would make them stand out [from privately owned books] and putting more book drops around the borough.”
Then, the pandemic hit, and for some time, people couldn’t return books anyway because the library branches were closed. The decision to eliminate fines, Johnson said, was related to BPL’s drive to get people to return to the borough’s libraries, to eliminate hardships, and to make the system more equitable for all.
“Especially for the less affluent, fines were a hardship. When you reached a threshold, your card was blocked. This created a situation that the librarian had to handle. Some people just stopped coming because the fines continued to mount. We want people to come back.”
Some people (including this writer) are inclined to think that, since large numbers of library patrons are children and adolescents doing schoolwork, a system of fines would stress the idea of responsibility. Johnson replied, however, that “for kids, often the parents are the ones who have to bring the books back. [Sometimes] the children suffer because of the parents.”
As for the issue that a lack of fines might put people who have reserved books at a disadvantage because people holding the books might now hang onto them longer, Johnson said that this fear is exaggerated. “We will still do a good job saying that book’s outstanding after a month,” she said.
Indeed, there will still be some fines, and the library system will still send out reminders when a book (or CD, or DVD) is coming due. Overdue messages are sent by email, text or phone, according to BPL.
The time to “pay the piper,” so to speak, will come approximately a month after the book or other item is considered lost. “Items not returned more than 28 days after their due date are considered lost,” a statement from BPL reads.
A replacement charge for the cost of lost items will be added to your account in order to replace them in our collection. You cannot place holds, renew, or check out any physical library material until you have returned your lost items or have paid for their replacement,” the statement continues.
“If the lost materials are returned, the replacement charges will automatically be cleared from your account. BPL will refund any fees paid when a lost item(s) is returned within 90 days of payment, in good condition, and with proof of payment,” BPL says.
“This announcement is another major step towards making our public libraries, the heart of so many communities, accessible to all,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said. “Eliminating fines will let us serve even more New Yorkers, allowing them to enjoy all of the resources and programs that public libraries offer to grow and succeed.”