June 6, 2018

The Baltimore library system is eliminating overdue fines


Baltimore’s Enoch Pratt Free Library system has some big news: they’re eliminating overdue fines on late books, according to a recent report by Yvonne Wenger at the Baltimore Sun. They also plan to wipe out the $186,000 currently due in penalties from 26,000 people and reinstate the 13,000 borrowers whose cards have been blocked. The library will continue to charge patrons for books they never return at all.

The Pratt Library makes $100,000 a year in overdue fines, but according to President Heidi Daniel it’s worth forfeiting that revenue in pursuit of the library’s mission:

Daniel said analysis by the Pratt and other libraries shows that fining customers affects lower-income users disproportionately, and punishes children who might have limited control over returning books on time. About 2,500 of the Pratt’s blocked cards belong to children and teens… For the poorest customers, Daniel said, paying fines can be such a barrier that they stop using the library… “We see families who come in and have to leave empty-handed without books,” Daniel said. “We asked ourselves, ‘Why are we in the City of Baltimore?’ It’s not because we want to collect your 10-cent fine. We’re in the City of Baltimore because we want to provide access and we want to empower every resident of this city.

Eliminating overdue fees is a growing trend that’s been seen implemented at libraries in Salt Lake City, Columbus, and Nashville. According to Pam Sandlian Smith, president of the Public Library Association, “The key reason libraries are making this decision is an understanding that fines are a barrier to people successfully using the library.” Eliminating the fees seems to have a positive impact, according to reports from those libraries: Peter Bromberg from the Salt Lake City library said the system’s circulation has gone up ten percent after trending downward for three years. “In the library, arguing about fines is the single most negative experience for customers and staff,” he said. Eliminating the fines is “a customer service boon.”

Just think: If overdue fees didn’t scare patrons away from returning books, recent events might have played out very differently.



Stephanie DeLuca is the director of publicity at Melville House.