Libraries have become a focal point at the center of some of America’s most heated debates. They have pushed back against book bans that primarily target topics of racial injustice and diversity. Meanwhile, libraries are also working to be more inclusive and equitable with initiatives like going fine-free.
Many librarians have long advocated for eliminating overdue fines, but the idea only started picking up steam about five years ago. Some libraries tested the waters first by eliminating past-due fines for children’s materials. Now, more are expanding to include all content.
Lessa Pelayo-Lozada, president of the American Library Association, says, “Monetary fines create a barrier to the provision of library and information services and at the core of this is an equity issue.”
Some of the largest library systems to go fine-free saw a large increase in library card renewals. They also started seeing more materials returned.
Libraries are also helping improve equity by closing the gap in technology access by lending hotspots, laptops and e-readers for longer periods of time.
Some libraries are also setting up more study rooms and business centers for small business owners that often have free internet access.
Libraries that went fine-free also reported more people coming through the actual doors and accessing services and programs, many of which benefit lower-income and historically underserved communities.
Groups like the Urban Libraries Council and End Library Fines are tracking locations across the country going fine-free.
As for pushback to going fine-free, Pelayo-Lozada says some libraries just need to do the planning to make sure they can make up what is often only a small amount of money lost by not collecting fines.
“We see this as how to be a good member of society. It’s not really the library’s role to teach responsibility," she said. "That’s not part of our mission.”