Philadelphia is joining a growing list of library systems around the country that are eliminating fines for overdue books.
The Free Library of Philadelphia’s board of trustees voted Wednesday to scrap most fines and forgive outstanding debts, though the changes won’t go into effect immediately.
“Everybody’s record is wiped clean, essentially,” Free Library President Siobhan Reardon said. The new policy is expected to encourage people who had stopped using the library to come back, Reardon added.
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“It really is meant to be a barrier reduction to people because they owed money or they felt embarrassed about coming back to the library,” she said.
Reardon said the Free Library of Philadelphia began studying the potential impact of eliminating overdue book fines about two years ago, following similar moves by other systems throughout the country.
As has been the case with other library systems, the policy change is also expected to allow libraries in Philadelphia to recover overdue materials, Reardon said. “It should be a very good percentage of objects coming back,” she said.
Though fines for most overdue materials will be eliminated under the new policy, lost or destroyed items will still need to be repaid before people can check out more books. However, in lieu of cash, libraries in the city will also accept “new or gently used copies” of the items that were lost or destroyed.
The Free Library of Philadelphia does expect to be able to cover the portion of its annual budget that would normally have been made up of fines, Reardon said.
Last year, the system collected about $421,000 in overdue book fees, with a portion going back to city coffers and “a little over” $100,000 going toward funding library programs, Reardon said. That roughly $100,000 hole will likely be covered through private donations, she said.
The change in policy will take effect at a yet-to-be-determined date while logistics and new training for staff takes place. Until that’s completed, libraries will still use the current fine policy, Reardon said.
However, she reiterated that people who do have outstanding fines can still use library resources in the meantime; the only thing they can’t do is check out new books.