Chicago eliminates library late fees, forgives outstanding debt
Chicago Public Library is now the largest public library system in the nation to stop penalizing residents for overdue library books.
Chicago will no longer fine residents for returning library books past due.
Beginning Oct. 1, city libraries will stop collecting fees on overdue books and forgive residents’ outstanding library card debt, according to the Chicago Tribune, making Chicago Public Library, or CPL, the largest public library system in the nation to eliminate such penalties.
Libraries will automatically renew overdue items up to 15 times, unless another patron places it on hold. If the item is not returned after 15 renewals, the borrower will be charged a replacement fee, which the library will waive once it has been returned.
Patrons who rack up an outstanding balance of $30 or more will be prohibited from borrowing additional items, according to the CPL website.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a statement that the goal of eliminating library late fees is to remove barriers for low-income residents and younger patrons. The mayor called the fees “regressive,” causing the most harm to those least able to bear the cost.
One-third of library branch patrons in the library system’s south district cannot check out items because they owe fines in excess of $10, according to the mayor’s office. One-fifth of suspended library cards citywide belong to children younger than 14 years old.
Research shows late fees and fines are not necessarily revenue-positive, the mayor’s statement said. “The cost of collecting and maintaining overdue fees often outweighs the revenue generated by them,” the statement said, suggesting the absence of fines and fees will not have a significant impact on revenue.
CPL took in $897,000 from late fees last year, less than 1% of its budget.
The new policy is part of Lightfoot’s goal of reducing Chicago’s reliance on regressive financial penalties. On Sept. 27, the mayor’s office unveiled a debt relief program for city vehicle stickers and other fees.
Lightfoot’s wife, Amy Eshleman, is a former CPL assistant commissioner and worked for the city’s library system for nearly two decades.