The Burbank Public Library is longer charging overdue fines for late materials, a move officials believe will improve access for low-income patrons.
The change went into effect Thursday, the beginning of the 2021-22 fiscal year, along with the rest of Burbank’s budget policies. Library items that are lost, damaged or never returned will still cost patrons replacement fees. But if a patron returns a lost or past-due item — no matter how long overdue — all charges will be removed from the user’s account.
The library is also waiving all unpaid overdue fines incurred prior to Thursday.
“While fines for overdue items may seem like a small burden, they can create a major barrier to service for those who are struggling financially,” library services director Elizabeth Goldman said in a statement. “Too many people have made the choice to stop using the library because of inability to pay or fear of accruing fines.”
Library officials said in a news release that they believe the societal costs of fines outweigh any benefits. Research, they said, has shown that fines are not effective in getting materials returned on time, adding that libraries that have eliminated fines have reported some patrons returning with long-lost items and others resuming their use of the library after a long absence.
Some anecdotal evidence exists to support officials’ claims. After Chicago’s public library eliminated late fees in 2019, the Chicago Sun-Times reported, the library commissioner said the amount of books returned increased by 240%.
Other libraries that have eliminated overdue fees include the Glendale, Los Angeles and San Diego public libraries, which made the change in 2019. That year, the American Library Association passed a resolution urging libraries to “scrutinize their practices of imposing fines on library patrons and actively move towards eliminating them.”
Some libraries stopped charging overdue fees during the pandemic, USA Today reported, with locations reevaluating the policy during a time when many of their patrons’ financial difficulties were particularly acute.
Burbank Public Library officials said in the news release that the policy change was part of their 2021 Racial Equity Action Plan, which can be viewed at burbanklibrary.org. They added that punitive library fines often most hurt patrons who need its services the most, and that “the country’s history of systemic racism means that people of color will be disproportionately affected by such fines.”
“I’m so proud to see Burbank Public Library join over 200 other American cities in going fine free,” said Emily Weisberg, chair of the Burbank Board of Library Trustees, in a statement. “Making this change will allow increased access to materials and services, especially for our younger patrons. By eliminating the barriers that fines represent, we’re better able to meet our mission of connecting our community members to opportunities for growth, inspiration and discovery.”
The local library system no longer charges fees for lost library cards or reserved items that are never picked up. The library will, however, charge patrons a lost fee if an item isn’t returned 14 days after its due date. The user can have that fee removed by returning the lost item. The library currently has about 8,300 items considered lost, though that figure doesn’t include lost items that have since been removed from the catalog, Goldman told the Burbank Leader in an email.
The elimination of overdue fines will not impact the library’s funding as all fines become general city revenue rather than directly going to the library itself. In fiscal year 2018-19, the library generated nearly $108,000 in total fines.
For more information about the policy shift, visit burbanklibrary.org or call (818) 238-5600.