Oct. 5, 2021 By Allie Griffin
The city’s three public library systems—Queens, Brooklyn and New York—are eliminating late fees and scraping all users’ existing balances.
The libraries have suspended late fees since March 2020 due to the pandemic and announced Tuesday that they will permanently end late charges — which have been in place since the three systems were founded at the turn of the 20th century — on overdue books and other items.
The libraries are also wiping clean all existing balances on users with overdue books. This will allow patrons whose library cards were blocked when they accrued more than $15 in fines to check out materials again.
The goals of the policy change are to encourage more people to use their local libraries and to create a more equitable system.
“For far too long, late fines have generated fear and anxiety among those who can least afford to pay, preventing them from opening library accounts, checking out books, or even coming through our doors,” Queens Public Library President and CEO Dennis M. Walcott said. “I vividly remember as a child having late fines on my card and hesitating about going to the library when I needed it.”
The late fees and blocked library cards have historically impacted lower-income, high-need communities at greater rates than other neighborhoods. In Queens, Corona, Jamaica, Far Rockaway and Elmhurst have had the highest number of blocked cards and all four neighborhoods have median incomes below the borough average.
“Late fines tell people they do not belong, and that shutting them out is simply the cost of doing business,” Walcott said. “This is not only unacceptable, but also totally inconsistent with our mission.”
The policy change will clear all existing late fines of nearly 350,000 Queens Public Library users — about a quarter of all cardholders. Of the counts, 19 percent belong to customers 18 and younger.
Walcott said the new policy will allow all Queens residents to “share in the great promise of public libraries – that anyone, no matter their circumstances, can have free access to sources of learning and ideas that will help them find success and joy in their lives.”
In addition to eliminating late fees, Queens Public Library is no longer charging collection fees, processing fees and fees on requests not picked up.
Queens Public Library customers, however, will still be subject to fees if they lose a borrowed book or other items. They will need to pay a replacement fee if the item is not returned. Materials are considered lost after they are not returned about a month past their due date.
If a patron accrues $50 in replacement fees or has 20 or more overdue items, their cards will be blocked from borrowing physical materials and books. They can still access computers, e-books and other digital services.
Patrons will also still be subject to fees for lost cards ($2), bounced checks ($25), interlibrary loans and out-of-state card registrations ($50).
Starting today, October 5, Queens Public Library will no longer charge daily late fines on overdue materials, and your existing late fines have been removed! Learn More in this special message from QPL President and CEO Dennis M. Walcott. https://t.co/xKVHVX7i2v#GoodbyeLateFines pic.twitter.com/FiB9U5d1r4
— Queens Public Library (@QPLNYC) October 5, 2021
The city’s three library systems collected about $3.4 million in late fines during Fiscal Year 2019, before the pandemic. Since suspending late fines in March 2020, the systems have found other ways to absorb the lost revenue, according to library officials.
The three systems are the latest to eliminate fines. Other major cities such as San Francisco, Chicago, Philadelphia, Miami-Dade, Seattle and Dallas have already gone fine-free. However, altogether, the three New York City systems represent the largest municipality to stop the fees.
Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, chair of the Committee on Cultural Affairs and Libraries, applauded the elimination of late fees.
“Access to knowledge is one of the great opportunity equalizers in our society, and late fees were a barrier to that access – certainly to check out books, and in many instances, it kept people from even visiting their local library,” Van Bramer said. “This change will impact roughly 400,000 New Yorkers and I’m excited for what this new chapter of equity brings to our public libraries,”
The three systems are also holding a week of special programs and giveaways at all branch locations, beginning Oct. 18, to welcome back patrons.
or just download/read the book online. the internet is your new library. there are plenty of free legit sites offering classic literature and texts. some might not let you download, but will let you read it through their site.
Nice. I can’t tell you how many times I returned a book on time, they put it back on the shelf, but somehow they didn’t check it in — resulting in constant, undeserved fines — until I finally gave up checking out books altogether. So many fines are based on nonsense like that, or kids whose parents are less responsible, or libraries who change their schedules or close their dropboxes without notice…
Clearly the libraries can do without the money (since they already have been) and I’m glad they’re making the call.
What you’re describing has NEVER happened to me. I check stuff out all the time and then return the items and their system has been better than 99 percent accurate. Based on my 20+ years as a heavy user of the Queens Library, I find it hard to believe that anyone has been subjected to “constant, undeserved fines.”
Well, I’m glad it hasn’t happened to you, but it certainly did happen to me repeatedly. This was circa 2008-2010, until I finally gave up on checking books out around then. I would show you my old fines if they hadn’t just eliminated them!
I don’t know if it was the specific branch, or new technology that employees weren’t familiar with, or using the dropbox, or exactly what was causing all the issues I experienced. Hope their system has improved in the meantime.
This is actually a good thing. The Queens library actually sent a collections agency after me for twelve dollars in fines. This was when the library was run by Thomas Gallente, Jimmy Van Bramer’s former boss, who was fired for embezzlement.
I’m so happy to hear that these day care centers, I mean libraries, where I can abandon my kids onto them to babysit for free while I do “adulting” will eliminate late fees. 👏👏👏
BlockBuster video tried this.
I don’t think it worked.
…so then just go to the book swap near Lodati.
Once again, eliminate the crime, eliminates the criminal. Let’s eliminate more crimes and the prison population will go down. I always brought books back on time or paid my fine.
Catering to the irresponsible yet again.
If you read the article maybe you wouldn’t be so offended. Scroll up to learn more!
Once again, being responsible and paying your bills are considered a bad trait.