With one fell stroke, the largest public library system in this nation has eliminated late fees for its entire database of customers. As of Tuesday of this week, the New York Public Library has cleared all accounts of late fees and removed them from any upcoming returns, a move that seeks to boost patronage of libraries and welcome back those who’ve abandoned New York’s libraries entirely.
In an update reported on by NPR, this momentous decision is compared with the push across the country to reinvigorate library attendance and use. New York City’s previous regulations meant that any cardholder with $15 or more in late fees would have their cards blocked until the fee was paid. This prevented many New Yorkers – especially those in under-served communities if disproportionately low-income families – from borrowing books at the over-200 branches of the city’s libraries.
Several other municipalities have similarly abolished late fees; NPR mentions Boston, Chicago, and San Diego and Burbank in California wiping fees off of cardholder’s accounts, then abolishing late fees entirely. It’s a growing trend that began by forgiving fines for minors, wiping the slate clean of fines, and other short-term solutions prior to fee removal across the board, though there’s more progress to be made on this front.
Hopefully, this move by New York City will be a beacon for the smaller public library systems throughout the country, but time will tell. As per NPR’s previous coverage of San Diego’s removal of overdue fines in 2019: “…public library systems are ditching overdue fees after finding that the penalties drive away the people who stand to benefit the most from free library resources.”