Memo for fiscal year 2022, updated 2021-04-12

[Archived] Question # 52: What would be the costs and equity implications of eliminating fines for overdue library materials? What are surrounding jurisdictions doing?


What would be the costs and equity implications of eliminating fines for overdue library materials? What are surrounding jurisdictions doing? (Vice Mayor Bennett-Parker)


In January 2019, the American Library Association (ALA) Council adopted the “Resolution on Monetary Library Fines as a Form of Social Inequity.” In June 2019, the ALA Council amended their Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights to include the removal of economic barriers to information access.

In December 2019, the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Committee (EDI) of Alexandria Library studied Library policies and procedures that may disproportionately harm those having financial difficulties, experiencing homelessness, or those from marginalized communities. After surveying the staff, the topic of fine elimination was overwhelmingly supported to reduce social inequities. In March 2020, the Library was contacted by the Alexandria Human Rights Commission requesting that the Library consider permanently removing the barrier of fines. This subject was also supported by the All Alexandria Interdepartmental Equity Task Force and Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE).

The Alexandria Library currently charges a per item daily fine of $0.35 for overdue adult materials and $0.10 for overdue children’s materials. Customers are charged the replacement cost for each lost item as well as a $5 processing fee. Prior to the pandemic, customers who had accrued $35 or more in unpaid fines, fees or lost charges would be referred to a third-party collections partner. The customer’s account would be blocked if the account was not settled within a reasonable timeframe.

During the pandemic, Library customers were granted amnesty for fines which had accrued between January 2020 and September 2020. While the Library has reinstituted assessment of late fines, it has not yet returned to utilizing its third-party collection process given the ongoing pandemic. During the pandemic, the Library also instituted a system of automatic renewal to encourage patrons to return materials prior to fine assessment. With this system in place, materials are automatically renewed up to three (3) times if no other customer has holds on the material.

The elimination of Library fines would remove the punitive aspect of Library borrowing and focus on the goals of equitable access to materials and materials recovery. While assessment of late fines would cease, customers would still be responsible for the replacement cost of any lost or ultimately unreturned items. In limited instances where a customer has multiple lost/unreturned items, the Library would suspend a customer’s borrowing privileges until the materials are returned, or the account delinquency settled. To further promote materials recovery over punitive actions, the Library would continue its policy of automatic renewals for items that are not on hold.  

Based on trend data from FY 2018 and FY 2019, the Library would need additional City funding of $142,000 to replace all fines or $70,000 to replace fines on juvenile materials only. The Library’s perspective is that elimination of all fines is greatly preferred as the pandemic has revealed that addressing equity issues for adults and children is necessarily intertwined.

Other Jurisdictions
The following neighboring jurisdictions are now fine free: Arlington, Falls Church, Loudoun, Richmond, District of Columbia Public Library (DCPL), Montgomery County, Prince Georges County, and Enoch Pratt. Fairfax County and Prince William County libraries have submitted requests in the FY22 budget relating to fee elimination.

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