A Major Library System Makes a Big Move

Chicago Public Library is ditching late fees
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 3, 2019 1:17 PM CDT
Chicago Libraries Scrap Late Fees
Stock photo of a Chicago Public Library branch.   (Getty Images / eyfoto)

The Chicago Public Library system no longer issues late fees, making it the largest public library system in the country to toss overdue fines. In a move aiming to make access to libraries more equitable, the city is also dumping any currently outstanding late penalties. "Like too many Chicagoans, I know what it is like to grow up in financially-challenging circumstances and understand what it is like to be just one bill or one mistake away from crushing debt," Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot says in a statement. "The bold reforms we’re taking to make the Chicago Public Library system fine-free and forgive City Sticker debt will end the regressive practices disproportionately impacting those who can least afford it."

At CityLab, Linda Poon notes that while 92% of public libraries still charge late fees, more cities are doing away with them after realizing that "libraries are effectively driving away the very residents who need them the most." In Chicago, the new policy will automatically renew a checked-out item with no holds on it up to 15 times before marking it lost; the borrower will then be charged market value unless they return the item. (See a map of "fine-free" libraries here.) The Urban Libraries Council's communications director notes that no library has yet to report any "large-scale negative consequences" after eliminating fines. "Overdue fines are not distinguishing between people who are responsible and who are not," he says. "They're distinguishing between people who can and cannot use money to overcome a common oversight." (Read more library stories.)

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