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October 08, 2019

Philly councilwoman supports eliminating Free Library late fees

Government Libraries

The Free Library of Philadelphia collects about $400,000 per year in late fees. City Councilwoman Cherelle Parker has proposed to get rid of overdue fees in an effort to help residents save money and increase use of the library system.

Philadelphia City Councilwoman Cherelle Parker would like to see an end to late fees imposed on overdue books at the Free Library of Philadelphia.

A proposed resolution from the Ninth District councilwoman would follow in the footsteps of Chicago, which last month became the largest city in the United States to stop fining borrowers for returning books after their due dates. More than 200 municipalities across the country have taken similar measures.

“Our goal as a city is to ensure that as many residents as possible can access our library system to conduct research, further their education and increase overall literacy,” Parker said.

City Council's resolution would be nonbinding, and the Free Library's board of trustees ultimately would make the decision about any change to the system's fining policies.

Currently, the library imposes a fine of 25 cents per day for overdue materials. The fines max out at $10 for most items, except paperback books and periodicals, which are subject to a $5 maximum penalty.

If a library cardholder's account accumulates fines totaling $5 or more, the person is not allowed to borrow any additional materials until the fine is paid.

Research from the American Library Association and the Urban Libraries Council has found that eliminating overdue fees should increase overall book return rates and circulation rates.

The Free Library implemented a fine-free children's card in 2013 and has been researching the benefits of removing all late fees, including the possibility that more residents will be inclined to utilize libraries.

Of the Free Library's $47.9 million annual budget, the $400,000 its branches collect annually from late fees accounts for less than 1%.

“In light of the growing body of research that indicates that fines are a barrier to access for low-income residents and that eliminating them should increase return rates and circulation rates, we should explore whether Philadelphia would benefit from such a change," Parker added.

The the proposed resolution is awaiting a hearing date in City Council.