Library fine

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An illustration fine slip from A Library Primer (1899)

Library fines, also known as overdue fines, late fees, or overdue fees, are small daily or weekly fees that libraries in many countries charge borrowers after a book or other borrowed item is kept past its due date. Library fines are an enforcement mechanism designed to ensure that library books are returned within a certain period of time and to provide increasing penalties for late items. Library fines do not typically accumulate over years or decades. Fines are usually assessed for only a few days or months, until a pre-set limit is reached.

Library fines are a small percentage of overall library budgets, but lost, stolen or un-returned library books can be costly for various levels of government that fund.

Elimination of fines[edit]

In recent years, many libraries have stopped charging fines.[1] The Public Library Association and the Association of Library Services to Children have asked libraries to reconsider policies that keep low-income teens away for fear of fines.[2] Many libraries also offer alternatives and amnesties in order to encourage patrons to return overdue books. "Food for Fines" programs, in which borrowers donate canned food in exchange for fine forgiveness, are common in libraries all over the world. Some libraries offer children and teens the option to "read down" their fines by reducing fines based on the amount of time spent reading or the number of books read.[3] Other libraries may block access to library privileges until materials are returned.[4] Librarians have had a longstanding debate over whether or not to charge late fines.[5]

The American Library Association’s Policy 61 entitled, “Library Services to the Poor,” highlights the removal of all barriers to library and information services, particularly fees and overdue charges”.[6] Other researchers have argued for waiving fees if it is a barrier for continued use of the library.[7] It is imperative that the library staff understands the financial situation of the patrons it serves. This barrier to use—the fines that low-income people cannot afford—is an underlying problem that needs to be addressed. Gehner (2010) proposes that libraries work with the community to find out their need and to build relationships (p. 45).[8] He also found that overdue fines could be a limiting factor, too. Since libraries face limited funding, fees and fines represent both a source of revenue and a barrier to use (p. 43).


Some libraries have stepped up enforcement and collection of late fees. People who do not return library property after an extended period of time may face arrest or a negative action on their credit reports in some jurisdictions.[9] Patrons have been arrested for not returning library books in Colorado, Washington state, Iowa, Wisconsin and Texas.[9] Punitive measures such as these are typically used to recover stolen library property, not to enforce late fees.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Sifton, Daniel J. (2009). "The Last Taboo: Abolishing Library Fines". Partnership: The Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research. 4 (1). doi:10.21083/partnership.v4i1.935. ISSN 1911-9593. Retrieved:
  2. ^ Gardner, Marilyn (25 May 2006). "Is the lifting of library fines long overdue?". Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 31 July 2013.
  3. ^ Borpujari, Priyanka (28 March 2013). "For Young Readers, a Chance to Work Off Library Debt". The New York Times. Retrieved 1 August 2013.
  4. ^ Reed, Kathleen; Blackburn, Jean; Sifton, Daniel (2014-05-01). "Putting a Sacred Cow Out to Pasture: Assessing the Removal of Fines and Reduction of Barriers at a Small Academic Library" (PDF). The Journal of Academic Librarianship. 40 (3–4): 275–280. doi:10.1016/j.acalib.2014.04.003. hdl:10613/1990.
  5. ^ Flood, Alison (15 August 2008). "Noisy row breaks out in libraries over fines". The Guardian. Retrieved 31 July 2013.
  6. ^ American Library Association. (2010, August 4). 61 Library services to the poor.
  7. ^ DeFaveri, A. (2005). Breaking barriers: Libraries and socially excluded communities. Information for Social Change, 21.
  8. ^ Gehner, J. (2010). Libraries, low-income people, and social exclusion. Public Library Quarterly, 29(1), 39–47.
  9. ^ a b Netter, Sarah (11 March 2010). "Return Library Books or Else: Borrowers Arrested for Failing to Return Overdue Books, DVDs". ABC News. Retrieved 31 July 2013.