Ending Library Fines Research and Information

With the fiction of normality having just been exposed by the pandemic, why are we constantly talking of a New Normal? Let’s find the Silver Lining: How can we re-open libraries better and stronger and put our institutional purpose into action?

So, here’s a document to underpin Library Board and Management conversations about fines and fine policies.

Ending Library Fines Research and Information

Let’s end fines in Ontario . . . or at least start.

In the crucible that is Post-COVID 19 public library strategic planning, we have an opportunity to reimagine library services and reconnect with our core values, vision and mission.  Fines, in many ways conflict with our strategic intent in public libraries and research shows that they interfere with our goals – and, sadly they don’t get the books back faster, they can ruin our public relations as a top-of-mind issue for our members, and interfere with the lives and success of our most needy, young, and disadvantaged members.

FOPL chose to collect all of our links, news reports, and research here to assist public libraries and their boards to decide how and when they might reduce or remove fines. (HINT: Now is a good time to celebrate your re-opening.  Ideally, your fines and returns policies should be approved in a generic fashion and leave the details as to amounts from Zero+ cents and the target members (kids, youth, students, adults, seniors, homebound, disabled, etc.) up to the CEO and Management Team.

Five Unexpected Benefits of Eliminating Library Fines


  • Benefit #1: Librarians and staff can provide better service to patrons
  • Benefit #2: Being fine-free is more aligned with the real mission of the library
  • Benefit #3: Libraries seeing an increase in item returns
  • Benefit #4: Libraries can use their resources better
  • Benefit #5: Eliminating fines can lead to a renewed appreciation for the library (or at least provide some good PR)

[As an aside when most Alberta Public libraries stopped being the only jurisdiction in Canada to charge for library cards, they say huge (double-digit) growth in library use, memberships and card ownership.]

NPR: ‘We Wanted Our Patrons Back’ — Public Libraries Scrap Late Fines to Alleviate Inequity


“A form of social inequity”

“Acknowledging these consequences, the American Library Association passed a resolution in January in which it recognizes fines as “a form of social inequity” and calls on libraries nationwide to find a way to eliminate their fines.

“Library users with limited income tend to stay away from libraries because they may be afraid of incurring debt,” said Ramiro Salazar, president of the association’s public library division. “It stands to reason these same users will also stay away if they have already incurred a fine simply because they don’t have the money to pay the fine.”

Lifting fines has had a surprising dual effect: More patrons are returning to the library, with their late materials in hand. Chicago saw a 240% increase in return of materials within three weeks of implementing its fine-free policy last month. The library system also had 400 more card renewals compared with that time last year.”

How are overdue fines preventing you from meeting your library’s core values?

If you’ve not considered making your library fine free or want to know more about it, start with the white paper Removing Barriers to Access: Eliminating Library Fines and Fees on Children’s Materials prepared for the Colorado State Library.  In this white paper, Colorado State Library did a detailed and annotated literature review including:


Allen, J. (2011). New York scheme for 143,000 kids to work off library fines: Read. Reuters. Retrieved from http://www.reuters.com/article/us-library-finesnewyork-idUSTRE76O52520110725

American Library Association. (2012). ALA policy statement: Library services to the poor. Extending our reach: Reducing homelessness through library engagement. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/offices/extending-ourreach-reducing-homelessness-through-library-engagement-7

Breslin, F. & McMenemy, D. (2006). The decline in book borrowing from Britain’s public libraries: A small scale Scottish study. Library Review, 55(7), 414-428. doi:10.1108/00242530610682137

Burgin, R. & Hansel, P. (1984). More hard facts on overdues. Library & Archival Security, 6(2-3). 5-17.

Burgin, R. & Hansel, P. (1991). Library overdues: An update. Library & Archival Security, 10(2). 51-75.

Caywood, C. (1994). Penny wise, pound foolish. School Library Journal, 40(11), 44.

Chelton, M.K. (1984). What are fines for? Library Journal (109). 868-869.

Clayton, C. & Chapman, E.L. (2009). Fine tuning. Public Library Journal, 4(1), 12- 15. 23

DeFaveri, Annette. (2005). Breaking barriers: Libraries and socially excluded communities. Information for Social Change. Retrieved April 14, 2015 at http://libr.org/isc/articles/21/9.pdf.

Hansel, P. (1983). Hard facts about overdues. Library Journal, 108(4), 349.

Holt, L. E. & Holt, G. E. (2010). Public library services for the poor: Doing all we can. Library Journal,135(113), 92.

Jerome, J. A. (2012). Occupy the library. Public Libraries, 51(6), 6-7.

Keller, J. (2011). New library cards mean no fines in Cincinnati. Public Libraries, 50(4), 13-16.

Livingston, C. P. (1975). Removing fines. School Library Journal, 21(7), 80.

McMenemy, D. (2010). On library fines: Ensuring civic responsibility or an easy income stream? Library Review, 59(2), 78-81. doi:10.1108/00242531011023835

Neuman, S. B. & Celano, D. (2004). Save the libraries! Educational Leadership, 61(6), 82-85.

Pogash, C. (2016, March 30). In San Jose, poor find doors to library closed. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/31/us/in-sanjose-poor-find-doors-to-library-closed.html?_r=0

The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County. (2016). Table of fines and fees. Retrieved from http://www.cincinnatilibrary.org/policies/tablefinesfees.pdf 24

Pyatetsky, J. (2015). The end of overdue fines? Public Libraries Online. Retrieved from http://publiclibrariesonline.org/2015/11/the-end-of-overdue-fines/

Reed, K., Blackburn, J. & Sifton, D. (2014). Putting a sacred cow out to pasture: Assessing the removal of fines and reduction of barriers at a small academic library. Journal of Academic Librarianship, 40(3/4), 275-280. doi:10.1016/j.acalib.2014.04.003

Shelley, A. (2014). Libraries support early literacy through no-fines initiative. Retrieved from http://www.gcpld.org/news-and-events/featurednews/libraries-support-early-literacy-through-no-fines-initiative-0

Smith, F. & Mitchell, W. (2005). Using rewards to minimize overdue book rates. Journal of Access Services, 3(1), 47-52. doi:10.1300/J204v03n01_04

Venturella, K. M. (1998). Poor people and library services. Jefferson, N.C: McFarland. West, N. S. (2012, March 25). Late? No, fine: More public libraries are dropping fees for overdue materials, after deciding the extra revenue isn’t worth the aggravation. Boston Globe. Retrieved from http://www.boston.com/news/local/articles/2012/03/25/some_greater_b oston_libraries_are_dropping_fines_for_overdue_materials/

Zhang, D. (2013). SPELL research methodology and findings. Retrieved from http://spellproject.weebly.com/uploads/1/5/3/3/15331602/spell_research _methodology_and_findings.pdf

The case against library fines—according to the head of The New York Public Library


Doing Away with Fines: A consummation devoutly to be wished?


Libraries Are Dropping Overdue Fines — But Can They Afford To?: If libraries get rid of fines, the benefits may outweigh the losses.


Four Niagara libraries eliminate late fees on children’s materials: Fort Erie, Lincoln, Niagara-on-the-Lake and Pelham implemented new policy in January


Breaking Down Barriers to Library Service-Going Fine Free



A fairly new website, endlibraryfines.info, created to educate and inform librarians, library supporters, and the public about the benefits of eliminating library fines July 11, 2019 – The movement towards eliminating library fines has a place online at EndLibraryFines.info. The website offers the latest research on ending library fines, current media articles about libraries eliminating their fines, and a constantly updated map showing which libraries around the world have eliminated all or most of their fines. As more and more libraries look to eliminate this barrier to access, the need for information on the topic grows for librarians, library supporters, and decision makers such as elected officials, deans and provosts, and the general public.

Overdue fines pose a significant barrier to library use for many vulnerable populations, especially people living in poverty. Families with young children are often negatively affected since overdue fines prohibit them from fully experiencing the rich early literacy materials and staff expertise available in libraries that are crucial to a child’s development. Studies have shown that a lack of literacy support at a young age can directly impact their long-term academic success as well as future employment opportunities and economic mobility.

Most notably, there is no research to support the long-held belief that fines encourage people to return library items on time. In practice, libraries that have eliminated fines in places such as Salt Lake City and St. Paul have maintained a consistent return rate. This shows that non-monetary incentives to return library materials on time are just as effective and without the additional staff time and equipment required to collected fines.

While eliminating library fines has been discussed within librarian circles since the late 1970s, it is only recently that the American Library Association passed a resolution which referred to monetary fines as a form of social inequity and encouraged all libraries to discontinue charging fines within their communities. Monetary fines are at odds with the core mission of the library to provide access to a wide variety of services and materials.

“We have arrived at the tipping point for the movement to eliminate library fines,” says Andy Woodworth, librarian and creator of endlibraryfines.info. “This website provides vital information to help those with the power to make the change to do so. It’s an important issue that makes a difference in the lives of those affected. It moves libraries back towards one of their commonly associated mottos: free to all.”

About Andy Woodworth

Andy Woodworth is an experienced public librarian and library advocate who has been involved in numerous statewide and national library issue campaigns and initiatives. Andy is a member of the American Library Association Working Group on Eliminating Fines in Libraries. He is a 2010 Library Journal Mover & Shaker, award winning blogger, library publication guest columnist, conference presenter, unconference organizer, and graphic designer. You can see his other library advocacy projects on his LinkedIn page: https://www.linkedin.com/in/andy-woodworth/




“Library fines are a pressing social equality issue for the modern library.  There is no study or research which shows that library fines function as a mechanism to encourage timely return of materials. Instead, they serve as an economic barrier that impedes access to library materials and services for the financially disadvantaged people within our communities, particularly minors. In addition, it creates conflict points between staff and the community, acts as a poison to public relations, and utilizes valuable staff time applying, collecting, and managing what can only be described as a regressive tax.  It’s 2020. It’s time to end library fines for everyone.”


Interviews, Articles and Links



All articles have their state or country (if not within the United States) added in brackets to the headline so as to be found with a webpage search (Ctrl+F). For example, if you wanted to find all articles relating to libraries in New Jersey, you would search for “[NJ]”. Non-US libraries can be found by searching for their country name (e.g. “Canada”, “Australia”, “Ireland”).

For multiple articles about the same library, the most reputable source is chosen for inclusion; therefore, this is not an exhaustive listing of all library fine articles. In addition, websites that use paywalls to limit article access are generally avoided.

All 2019 & Earlier Articles

2020 (Articles are updated on a rolling basis)









  • Grassroots Report: A Fine Madness (American Libraries)[Excerpt]
    Oct 2006, Vol. 37 Issue 9, p45-45. 1p (found via Academic Search Premier)
  • Philadelphia Backs off Fine Policy (Library Journal)
    2/15/2006, Vol. 131 Issue 3, p20-20. 1/8p.
    “A year ago, the library doubled daily book fines to a formidable 50¢ per day but, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, that actually deterred use. “Fewer books were coming back, and people were not paying fines…but, more important, we saw evidence that fewer people were borrowing books,” director Elliot Shelkrot told the newspaper. Fine revenue for 2005 was $760,000, down from the $780,000 it collected the previous year. So, the library has reversed its policy, and fines are now 25¢ a day.”