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Exciting news! Effective June 1, YDL will no longer charge fines for late materials. The Library’s Board of Trustees voted unanimously to eliminate most fines following recommendations from the library’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) team. According to EDI research, fines are mostly punitive and minimally effective. They also do not align with the library’s commitment to inclusiveness.

A 2019 resolution from the American Library Association showed that monetary fines make it harder for some community members to access library materials, and that there is “mounting evidence that indicates eliminating fines increases library card adoption and library usage.”

“It’s important to be welcoming to all,” said Library Director Lisa Hoenig. “We’re happy to eliminate a barrier that has kept parts of our community from using the library.”

According to a recent Detroit Free Press article, 44% of Michigan libraries have eliminated overdue fines. Read on for more about why YDL has decided to join the ranks of other libraries in Washtenaw County like Chelsea, Dexter, and Manchester, by going fine-free.

What does it mean to be fine-free?

You will no longer be charged a daily late fine on overdue items! We also removed all overdue fines you may have accrued before we went fine-free. However, past fees for lost or damaged items will still apply. You are still responsible for returning your items.

YDL will send reminders to let you know if something becomes overdue. Materials that are 28 days overdue are assumed lost and the cardholder must either return the item or pay the replacement cost. People with existing fines on their account are encouraged to visit the library for help clearing them, even for older charges from lost or damaged materials.

“Our hope is that eliminating late fees will inspire people to return materials, even when they’re late, rather than having them go into lost status,” said Hoenig. “And the research we’ve seen supports that.”

In the Free Press article, eliminating fines also proved to save time for library staff and allowed for more positive interactions with patrons.

“This change will hopefully make YDL a more deeply accessible part of the community — one that can lift up and support its members without the fear of punitive fees,” said YDL Assistant Director Julianne Smith.

Why did YDL eliminate late fines?

YDL is following a growing trend across Michigan and around the country to eliminate fees on overdue materials. The 2019 ALA resolution encouraged libraries to “scrutinize their practices of imposing fines on library patrons and actively move towards eliminating them.” In response, during the COVID-19 pandemic, YDL suspended fines from March 2020–July 2021, and waived the bulk of existing fines in 2020.

The data from YDL during this time, as well as from other libraries who had eliminated fines, confirmed they have limited financial benefits and result in a loss of goodwill from the community.

“The amount of fines collected by the library does not reduce the overall tax burden or provide enough income to support specific services,” said Smith. “In addition, fines are shown to have the greatest negative impact on those that need the free services of the library the most.”

Fines have traditionally been a very small fraction of YDL’s total revenue. The addition of an auto-renewal system has also made it easier to manage materials returns.

Statistics on the impact of the move to fine-free will be included in future YDL annual reports, as well as YDL’s website and social media feeds.

“We’ll see lots of data about the logistical and financial impacts of going fine free,” said Hoenig. “But we hope the positive impact across our community will resonate more than anything else.”

Fine-free research help

Links to articles about the impact of going fine-free can be found below: