Philadelphia Free Library trustees vote to eliminate overdue book fines

Pat Loeb
December 11, 2019 - 11:25 am
Free Library of Philadelphia.

Holli Stephens/KYW Newsradio

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UPDATED: 12:30 p.m.

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — The Free Library of Philadelphia will eliminate fines for overdue books. The library's board of trustees voted Wednesday morning to do away with most fines early next year.

Library President Siobhan Reardon says she expects that eliminating fines will encourage more people to join and use the library.

"There are many, many, many people out there that aren't crossing our threshold because they have fines due, and I'd much rather those folks come into the library," she said.

Reardon and trustee chair Pamela Dembe say the new policy will not only encourage more people to use the library; it will actually make more material available. And she says it could mean a windfall of overdue material being returned. About half a million items in its four-million-item circulating collection are currently overdue. 

"Doing away with fines is going to improve our relationship with our customers tenfold," Reardon said.

"When we get the missing books back, it's like we got a gift of a huge number of books," Dembe said.

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That's what's happened in other cities that eliminated fines, according to Reardon.

"My colleague libraries are telling the most fascinating stories about the material that's coming back and how old it is and and how long they've had it and the stories around those objects and why they weren't returned," Reardon said.

Trustees vice-chair John Soroko was the lone vote against the move.

"Library fines are a long-established and commonsense approach to building responsibility among library users, and I did not find the reasons for eliminating them to be compelling," he said.

However, advocates of eliminating fines say they don't distinguish between people who are reponsible or not, but between people who have money or not. In a city with a deep poverty rate, they say, lifting the fines is a form of social justice.

There will still be fees for material that is lost or destoyed unless it's replaced with new or gently used copies.