Why the Change?
We started moving in this direction some time ago with our Fine-Free Youth Cards: as a pilot program, we removed overdue fines for children and young adults in June 2019. A lot of research done by librarians around the country shows without a doubt that overdue fines are an ineffective method for getting items back. People get sick, snow falls, work calls; life happens. Overdue fines don’t make patrons more responsible, they just make it more difficult for people who can’t always afford it when the unexpected hits.
Richmond Public Library is dedicated to serving the entire greater Richmond area, and believes in free and equal access for all. We saw that a significant number of our residents were unable to check out materials because of debt owed to the library, and we believe that it is more important to break down barriers than it is to punish people for late items.
There are a growing number of libraries which have gotten rid of their overdue fines in the past few years, and the American Library Association has also urged libraries to reconsider charging overdue fines; these case studies and documents helped guide our decision. Finally, after a lot of research and discussion among staff at all levels of Richmond Public Library, Director Scott Firestine presented the case to the Board of Trustees who voted unanimously to end the practice immediately.
What if I bring the item(s) back after it’s been billed to me?
Hurry! Items that are past the due date and considered lost or missing can still be returned and the value of the item removed from the account. However, a balance that is greater than $25.00 may be sent to a collection agency after fifteen days. This means that if an item is valued at $20.00 or more and is more than forty-five days past its due date, it is probable that the debt will be referred to the collection agency.
What’s the difference between “fines” and “fees”?
“Fines” or “overdue fines” are the daily charges applied to items not returned by a specific due date. “Fees” refer to the charges applied for lost, damaged, or unreturned materials; we will still be charging fees when appropriate.
What about lost revenue? Isn’t this going to hurt the library?
In the 2018-2019 fiscal year, less than $45,000 was collected in overdue fines; this represented less than 1% of the Richmond Public Library’s entire budget. Additionally, money collected from overdue fines went to the City of Richmond’s general fund, not directly to the library. By eliminating overdue fines, we hope to save money by no longer having to send notices regarding bills for fines.
Is there still an incentive to bring back books?
Yes. We still believe in personal responsibility and we trust that our patrons will continue to bring back materials in a timely manner. While we may have gotten rid of overdue fines, we do still have a two-week checkout period (with up to four renewals). If items are not returned within thirty days of their due date, the patron will be charged for the value of the item, plus a $5.00 processing fee; patrons who owe more than $10.00 will still be blocked from checking items out.
Are there other fine free libraries?
At present, there are more than 200 libraries that have eliminated overdue fines across the country, including major cities, small rural communities, and everything in between. If you are curious to see who else has adopted this policy, click on the link below to see the Urban Libraries Council’s interactive map of fine free libraries.