Holland library joins growing trend of eliminating late fees

Herrick District Library is joining major libraries across the country in eliminating late fees. In recent months, public libraries in New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, Boston and Los Angeles County have dropped late penalties. 

Research shows this longtime policy has an exclusionary impact and often disproportionately affects low-income families. That’s because patrons who didn’t pay their fees couldn’t check out books. 

“There is little evidence that fines actually encourage people to return items sooner,” HDL Director Diane Kooiker says. “Fines can target those who can least afford fines but can really use the resources of the library. Removing fines removes one more barrier to service. 

“Our staff will no longer deal with the transactions of fine payment at the desk and can focus more on providing our services, including connecting people with needed resources.”  

Not effective deterrent

Fines make up a miniscule portion of the library’s revenue — two-tenths of a percent in recent years. They also are not an effective deterrent, and they create more work for library staff, Kooiker says.

Herrick’s board voted unanimously last month to stop charging late fees for all materials checked out from the library’s collection. Print and audio-visual materials for children and teens were already fine-free. 

If an item is kept long past its due date, the HDL patron will be charged for the replacement cost of the item. Patrons are still responsible for existing fines on their accounts.  Some other libraries that have ended fines have erased patrons’ debt. 

HDL has not charged late fees since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, but that suspension was scheduled to expire Dec. 31. 

Boosts returns

The American Library Association has been encouraging libraries across the country to eliminate late fines. In 2019, the ALA ratified a resolution in 2019 that urged libraries to move toward eliminating fines because they create a barrier to service to lower income users.   

Libraries that have dropped their late fees have benefitted from an increase in library patrons.

Board members had initially worried that removing fines would mean items would not be returned, but a three-month study showed fewer items went unreturned.    

Cards from other libraries in the Lakeland Library Cooperative also can be used to check out HDL-owned items without fear of fines from HDL. The cooperative includes 60 libraries across West Michigan, including Zeeland, Saugatuck and Spring Lake libraries.   

While there are no late fines for items belonging to HDL, items borrowed from the Lakeland interlibrary loan system are still subject to overdue fines, depending on the policy of the library that owns each item. 


Read more articles by Shandra Martinez.