Jan 12, 2023 - News

Houston Public Library eliminates overdue fines

Illustration of a house-shaped bookcase

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Houston Public Library will no longer charge late fees on overdue books and other borrowed items, after the Houston City Council unanimously approved the library’s proposal Wednesday.

Why it matters: Fine-free systems decrease financial barriers to library access and allow more low-income individuals to use the library's resources — which go beyond checking out books.

Details: Overdue fines were 20 cents per day for adult and young adult materials and 10 cents for children's materials.

  • Approximately 25% of HPL account holders owe fines, and 70% of those fines were accrued before 2015.

The big picture: Late fines comprised of less than 1% of the HPL's budget over the past five years, so the policy change is not expected to impact revenue.

  • Plus: Processing fines were a strain on staff time and resources.

The intrigue: During an amnesty period from Jan. 17 through Feb. 18, library staff will assist patrons in getting their existing charges erased.

  • Flashback: The last time HPL had an amnesty period in 2014, $30,000 in fines were cleared and $75,000 worth of overdue material was returned.

Zoom out: HPL joins other library systems across the country in eliminating fines.

  • Chicago Public Library removed fines in 2019, and the system had a 240% increase in book returns.
  • Denver Public Library removed fines in 2018 and had a 35% increase in customers returning to the library and a 10% increase in lost materials being returned.

What they're saying: "A fine-free library system evens the playing field and incentivizes Houstonians to become lifelong users of our Houston Public Library," said Mayor Sylvester Turner.

  • "Simply put, this is the right thing to do."

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