No More Overdue Fines at The City Library

Starting July 1, overdue fines at the Salt Lake City Public Library will be filed under the Dewey Decimal class 930 — ancient history.

At their meeting on Monday, May 22, 2017, the Salt Lake City Public Library Board of Directors approved a policy to eliminate overdue fines completely.

“The Library’s central mission is to provide access to information and opportunity for all members of the Salt Lake City community,” said City Library Board President Mimi Charles. “The Library Board is committed to developing policies that make it easy and equitable for everyone to make use of their Library’s resources.” The new policy was adopted with an 8–0 vote.

In his recommendation to the Board, City Library Executive Director Peter Bromberg wrote, “Fines have not been shown to be an effective deterrent to the late return of materials. However, fines have been shown to act as an inequitable barrier to service, disproportionately impacting children and community members with the least financial resources…. Late fines are therefore in opposition to the Library’s core values of equitable service, fostering early literacy, and barrier-free access to information and services. From both a mission and a values standpoint, late fines should be eliminated.”

Prior to the new policy, The City Library charged 20 cents per day for overdue books, 50 cents per day for movies. Each item had a maximum fine of $6 per book and $10 per DVD. Under this fine structure, a parent who checks out a dozen books and two movies would owe $2.90 per day late — in just one week, that adds up to $23.80 in overdue fines. The potential for taking on a large fine for a small infraction can keep community members from taking full advantage of their library’s collection, checking out fewer materials in order to keep their fine risk low. Others choose not to use their library at all.

With the passage of the new policy, The City Library anticipates a reduction of roughly $75,000 in fine revenues in its first year, or 0.3 percent of the Library’s $22.4 million budget.

The City Library joins several library systems from across the country that have eliminated overdue fines, including High Plains Library District in Colorado, Columbus Metropolitan Library in Ohio, San Rafael Public Library in California, ImagineIf Library in Montana, and New London Public Library in Wisconsin. When the San Rafael Public Library experimented with the elimination of fines for children’s materials in 2014–2015, they saw a 39 percent increase in youth card registrations, according to a San Rafael City Council Agenda Report (January 17, 2017). The increase was driven by a 126 percent increase in registrations at their Pickleweed Branch which serves the most economically disadvantaged neighborhood in San Rafael.

“We’re excited that our Library staff will be spending less time negotiating fines and more time connecting Salt Lake City residents with information and experiences to enhance their lives and improve our community,” said Bromberg.