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Pennsauken Free Public Library Eliminates Overdue Fines

Fine Free

Pennsauken Free Public Library Eliminates Overdue Fines

The Pennsauken Free Public Library is now officially fine-free! As of Monday, April 4, the library will no longer charge daily overdue fines for items, and previous fines accrued for overdue materials will be removed from patrons’ records. The library’s mission is to provide free and open access to information, services, technology, and programming. By removing the barrier to access created by fines, the library can further its mission and better meet the needs of the community. 

“Pennsauken is joining other progressive libraries across the country that have eliminated fines as a way to promote equal access to library resources without barriers,” Library Director, Tanya Finney Estrada said. “In an effort to create a welcoming environment for all community members, we hope that the removal of daily fines will encourage all Pennsauken residents to utilize the breadth of resources available at the library, and that no one will be deterred from using the library due to overdue fines.”

In 2019 the American Library Association issued a Resolution on Monetary Library Fines as a Form of Social Inequity and stated that “the imposition of monetary library fines creates a barrier to the provision of library and information services.” Multiple studies have shown that fines disproportionately impact low income residents, children, and families. Rather than motivating prompt returns, fines discourage many residents from borrowing materials altogether. Those who could benefit the most from the library’s resources are thus discouraged from accessing them. 

Pennsauken’s new Fines and Fees Policy eliminates daily fines for overdue materials, but it does not completely remove penalties for overdue items. Patrons who have overdue items on their account will be unable to check out new materials until they have returned the overdue items. Furthermore, patrons will still be charged for the replacement of lost items or items that are overdue beyond 35 days. Extended use fees will remain on some high demand items with limited availability, such as Museum Passes and technology. Materials that are owned by other libraries and borrowed through Interlibrary Loan will still be subject to fines as indicated by the lending institution. 

Please visit the library’s website for more information and the details of the new Fines and Fees Policy and Borrowing Policy.
 

Frequently Asked Questions

 

Why eliminate overdue fines?

Our mission statement claims that the Pennsauken Free Public Library offers “free and open access to information, services, technology, and programming. We are committed to providing educational resources for lifelong learning in a welcoming environment.” But our previous policy of charging overdue fines creates a barrier to access, and makes the library feel like a less welcoming place for the very members of our community who can benefit most from our services and programs. The removal of punitive fines will allow us to better meet our mission of “offering free and open access,” and to create a more “welcoming environment” for all community members.

What does “Fine-Free” mean?

A fine-free policy eliminates daily fines for overdue materials, but it does not completely remove penalties for overdue items. Patrons who have overdue items on their account will be unable to check out new materials until they have returned the overdue items. If items are overdue beyond 35 days they will be billed for the replacement cost, and unable to check out materials or access online resources such as Hoopla and Overdrive until they have either returned the items or paid the replacement fee. Daily fines on certain items, such as museum passes and certain technology, remain in place.

What will happen to past fines? 

If you’ve returned all materials to the Library, all fines will be waived except for any certified letter and court fees.

Will lost and damaged items remain on patrons’ accounts? 

Yes.  We ask patrons to pay the replacement fee for lost or damaged items. 

Will the library continue to charge daily fines/late fees for any items?

We will continue to charge daily overdue fines for the following items: 

  • Museum passes 
  • Launchpads 
  • Video games
  • Hotspots
  • Interlibrary Loans

These items are in our high demand collections with limited availability. Materials that are owned by other libraries and borrowed through Interlibrary Loan are still subject to fines.

How will the library teach patrons responsibility without fines?

Although responsibility and accountability are important life skills, the job of teaching these skills does not fall under the library’s mission of providing “free and open access to information, services, technology, and programming.” 

Will the removal of fines remove patrons’ motivation to return items on time?

Libraries that have adopted fine free policies have found that the vast majority of patrons are responsible about returning materials within a reasonable time frame without the threat of fines. Studies have shown that small fines have no impact on return rates, but once a patron has accrued a fine on their account, they are less likely to visit the library again. Fine free policies do not affect the return rates of materials, and library usership actually goes up with the removal of fines.  

If we are not utilizing fines, are we encouraging patrons to be irresponsible with library items? 

Borrowed items will continue to have due dates and reminders will be sent out accordingly to patrons who have email addresses on file. Staff will continue to encourage patrons to return items in a timely manner, and if they do not, their borrowing privileges will be suspended.

What restrictions are in place for those who fail to return items on time?

Borrowing privileges, including access to online resources such as Hoopla, Overdrive and Learning Express, would be suspended until they return the overdue item(s).

If the item is not returned within 90 days of the date of the 3rd notice (bill), then the book becomes the property of the patron and they are responsible for the replacement fee. The patron’s borrowing privileges will remain suspended until the replacement fee has been paid in full.

How will a fine-free policy affect the library’s budget?

In 2019, only 1.25% of the library’s budget came from fines. However, a considerable amount of money and staff time was spent on attempting to collect fines and overdue materials.

In terms of the overall budget, fines should not be viewed as a source of income for the library. Not only are fines an unreliable source of funds, but also revenue from fines is not actually used to replace lost materials. Although in the past fines were used as a way to encourage patrons to return their items on time, or as a reminder that borrowing privileges should not be taken for granted, daily overdue fines are now viewed as an outdated and inequitable practice. Time and money spent on pursuing fines could be better utilized in seeking out alternative funding sources, such as grants, or advocating for increased funding for public libraries overall.