MENU

No shame. No blame. No fines.

Have you heard the news? The Denver Public Library announced the elimination of fines for overdue materials beginning Jan. 1, 2019. The change is in an attempt to reduce barriers to the library’s most vulnerable customers.

As you know, a longtime member benefit for being a Friend was the receipt of fine vouchers, which will no longer be needed under the new policy. We’re currently putting the finishing touches on new benefits for our members and will announce them in early 2019. In the meantime, keep on reading to find out how the library made the determination to eliminate fines.

----

For some library customers, fines are simply a part of life. Forget to return Harry Potter on time? Pay a fine. Get lost binge-watching Game of Thrones? Pay a fine. For many, it’s an affordable trade-off for the privilege of borrowing from the local library. But for some, even just a few dollars in fines—the cost of a latte—can mean making important decisions about whether to return to the library at all.

On January 1, the Denver Public Library is eliminating fines for overdue materials in an attempt to reduce barriers for its most vulnerable customers, and library administrators are even forgiving most customers’ overdue fines to get them back in the door.

“We know that sometimes life gets in the way of returning materials,” said City Librarian Michelle Jeske. “And we don’t want people to stop coming to the library because they’re embarrassed or unable to pay. We want people using our resources, and we want items back so that others may borrow them too.”

Jeske explains that eliminating overdue fines is akin to providing equitable access for all customers. Too often, fines penalize the most vulnerable families and individuals who can least afford them; the library wants to reverse this trend and get community members back into library facilities to use materials and enhance their quality of life and education.

Libraries around the country have for decades assessed fines on overdue materials to entice customers into returning books, movies, and other materials. But a cultural shift has been quietly taking over many cities, including Salt Lake City and Columbus, that recently eliminated fines for overdue materials. Both library systems have reported increased visits and circulation as a result.

“Public libraries are all about access and going fine-free is one more way we can increase access to our collections and services,” Jeske said. “Access has a dividend for Denver—we all benefit from a curious and engaged community. Increasing library use and increasing material circulation is a win-win for all.”

Getting materials returned

Eliminating fines doesn’t solve the problem of returning materials, however, and the library has plans on how to ensure that Harry Potter and Game of Thrones can be enjoyed by others. Customer accounts will be blocked from further checkout when one or more items reach 14 days overdue. Once the items are returned, borrowing privileges are restored.

“Customers should make a habit of always returning items on or before the due date. It’s not just the right thing to do, it’s how libraries work,” said Jennifer Hoffman, who manages the library’s Books and Borrowing department. “There is still a consequence for not returning an item on time; it just won’t be in the form of overdue fines.”

Hoffman notes that customers should also be aware of the difference between fines and fees. Fines are a daily penalty assessed for late return of library items. Fees, on the other hand, are replacement charges assessed for the true cost of replacing lost or damaged items and may include fees resulting from collection referral. Fees are still included as part of the library’s return policy.

Not the first time the library stopped charging fines

The Denver Public Library has never charged late fees for seniors. In 2008, the library stopped collecting fines for kids’ materials and in 2014, for young adult materials. These actions helped remove barriers to library use and positively impacted borrowing for many customers.

In 2016, the library unveiled a new auto-renewal program for many materials, further helping customers avoid overdue fines. Seeing the success of these programs, the library sought formal approval from the Denver Public Library Commission and the Mayor’s Office. The Commission approved the fine free change in October 2018, and City Council approved the change in November as part of the 2019 budget process.

Budget considerations

Currently, overdue fines are not returned to the library itself but rather are returned to the City as part of the general fund. In 2017, fine revenue accounted for $110,339 in citywide revenue—less than 1 percent of all fines collected by the city. City Council approval was necessary to move forward with the new policy.

The library this January will forgive $474,000 in overdue fines from almost 85,000 customers. A public information campaign will let the public know about the new change in policy.

---

Founded in 1889, the Denver Public Library connects people with information, ideas and experiences to provide enjoyment, enrich lives and strengthen our community. With 26 locations throughout Denver, the library provides essential resources to the community including early literacy programs, computer and internet access and training, family and adult programs. Learn more at denverlibrary.org and keep up on library news and events through social media: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.