On this map, in the places with markers, libraries have eliminated the fines that many of us owe them:
Erasing Library Late Fees
In Chicago, because of unpaid late fees, 343,000 library cardholders were prohibited from borrowing books. Perhaps knowing S.R. Ranganathan’s laws of library science. Chicago’s Public Library Commissioner decided they had reached their tipping point. In his first law (proposed from India in 1931 and remembered by most librarians), Dr. Ranganathan said that books are for use. Worry less about preservation and more about readers.
So Chicago proclaimed what I assume is the greatest library amnesty of all time. Going forward they will charge no fines. And looking back, they will erase all that is owed.
Most affected? Kids under 14 held one fifth of the blocked cards. So too did people in lower income neighborhoods. As for library revenue, almost $4 million in late fees were due. But annually, the library system was able to collect just $875,000.
Meanwhile, the amnesty could bring many people and books back to the library. In 2012, a temporary fine suspension resulted in 101,301 overdue items returning to the library. Their estimated value was close to $2 million. At the same time, they attracted 29,500 library card renewals and applications.
Our Bottom Line: Unintended Consequences
A library late fee is an incentive that is supposed to encourage people to return borrowed books. Instead, unaffordable fines prevented many individuals from returning books and subsequently using a library.
Chicago’s librarians hope that a new set of incentives will work better. Fifteen automatic renewals will kick in for any borrowed book (unless someone reserves it). After that, an unreturned book will be declared “lost” and the borrower will be charged $10. If the total rises to $30 (three books, I guess) the person loses library privileges until paying a fine or returning the book.
Where are we? Like all fines, late fees might not work out as we expect.
My sources and more: Sometimes my email from City Lab has some great stories. The library fine discussion was one of them. From there, I received considerable insight from my librarian friends, John and Donna and learned about S.R. Ranganathan’s five laws of library science. I also found some detail in this Chicago Sun Times article and a story about San Francisco’s fine amnesty.
Our featured image is from the SF Examiner.