New York Public Library Is Eliminating Late Fees in Equity Push
(Bloomberg) -- New York City’s three largest public libraries are no longer collecting late fees and clearing all existing balances in an effort to make the city’s libraries accessible, the New York Public Library system announced Tuesday.
“Public libraries strive to be the most democratic institutions in our society, providing all people access to the resources they need to enrich their minds and improve their lives,” said Linda E. Johnson, president and chief executive officer of Brooklyn Public Library in the release. “Eliminating late fines means providing truly equitable access to everything the Library has to offer.”
Borrowers will still have to pay the full cost of any materials not returned after a month and cardholders with overdue books can still be blocked from borrowing additional materials, though, they will still have access to library computers, e-books, and other digital services.
Hundreds of libraries across the country have initiated similar efforts over recent years to ensure equitable access to their services, according to a 2020 report by the Urban Libraries Council. The NYPL system had suspended late fee fines at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020 and was able to absorb those costs, the library system said in the release. It did not specify how, but such charges only make up 1% of library budgets, the Urban Libraries Council found.
Before the pandemic, patrons couldn’t access library services if they accrued more than $15 in fines. Approximately 400,000 cardholders had accumulated more than that amount, with more than half of those coming from low-income communities with median household incomes less than $50,000. About 30% those accounts belonged to children and teens, many of whom were also from low-income communities, Angela Montefinise, a library spokesperson, told Bloomberg News.
The three city library system, which includes the The New York Public Library, the Brooklyn Public Library and the Queens Public Library, collects between $3 and $4 million in late fines annually, with $3.2 million collected in 2019, according to Montefinise. That same year, NYPL collected around $1.4 million in late fees but paid staff and collection firms around $1.5 million to chase them down. The New York Public Library will no longer use such firms, the library said.
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