NYC public libraries nix late fees, eliminate past overdue fines in push for equity

Local News

NEW YORK — New York City’s public library systems will no longer charge late fees for books, and will waive existing fines for long overdue books.

The New York Public Library on Tuesday announced that they, along with the Brooklyn Public Library and Queens Public Library systems, are all enacting the major policy change.

Late fees had already been suspended since March 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic and will now be permanently eliminated,

Combined, New York City’s library systems represent the largest municipality in the country to close the book on late fines.

“Removing this antiquated barrier to access allows libraries to better fulfill their mission: making knowledge and opportunity free and accessible to all,” the NYPL said in a statement.

In an effort to welcome New Yorkers back to city libraries, they’ve also decided to clear all past late fines from patrons’ accounts, allowing residents to start with a clean slate.

“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.”

In 2019, the city’s libraries collected about $3.2 million in late fees.

More than half of the 400,000 New Yorkers whose library cards had been blocked because they owed at least $15 in fines live in high-needs communities, the officials said. Those patrons will now be able to check books out again.

“Public libraries strive to be the most democratic institutions in our society, providing all people access to the resources they need to enrich their minds and improve their lives,” Brooklyn Public Library CEO Linda E. Johnson said. “Eliminating late fines means providing truly equitable access to everything the library has to offer.”

To celebrate this new fine-free era, and to perhaps welcome new guests to local libraries, the three systems are holding a week of giveaways and special programs at all branch locations beginning Oct. 18.

During this week, New Yorkers are encouraged to stop by, check out books and materials, as well as return any old books they might have at home, without the fear of a fine.

New Yorkers will still need to pay replacement fees if they lose books or other materials, the library officials said. A book is considered lost after it is overdue for a month, though if it is returned, there would be no fee.

While the details of the new rules are slightly different between each of the three New York City systems, generally under the new policies:

  • New Yorkers of all ages will no longer need to pay any late fines on overdue materials
  • In the past, library cards were blocked if they accrued $15 or more in fines; that will no longer be the case
  • New Yorkers will still need to pay replacement fees if they lose material. Materials are considered lost after being overdue for about one month. If materials are returned, however, no fees will apply
  • Cards will be blocked from borrowing additional physical materials if patrons accrue replacement fees (thresholds differ per system)
  • Even with a block on their cards, patrons can still access computers, e-books, and other digital services.

Other U.S. cities that have eliminated library late fees include San Francisco, Chicago, Philadelphia, Miami-Dade, Seattle and Dallas.

Read more details on the new policy here.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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